By Jeff Burbrink
Purdue Extension Elkhart County
ELKHART — Before you dismiss this story as just another about safety, please think about the families you know who have had farm accidents or fatalities in their past. Chances are, the memories still linger as a dark turning point in their family history. Then ask yourself, “Am I doing what I can to protect myself and my family?”
I can tell you from personal experience, accidents have a long-term impact on families. When I was less than a year old, my dad’s youngest brother was killed when he was swept off a tractor by a low-hanging limb while disking. When I was in college, the hired man on my roommate’s farm was killed in a gruesome accident involving a combine. I learned earlier this year that my dad also had an uncle killed in a farm accident in the 1940s. I’ve had several friends involved in farm accidents and fatalities since moving to Elkhart County, too. To say the least, I have strong feelings about safety on and off the farm.
Some people have a mindset that accidents just occur, that there is nothing you can do about accidents. I do not buy that philosophy. I fell off a roof nearly three years ago, severely breaking my left leg and ankle and leading to permanent injury and a bad limp. There were things I could have done to protect myself. The sad part is, accidents like this affect more than the person in the incident. It has an effect on your family, friends and the pocketbook too.
Many accidents happen when people take shortcuts to finish a job. Failing to put shields back in place on PTO-driven equipment, not shutting down the gathering chains on the combine when the corn head is clogged with stalks, placing parts of your body in positions where equipment can pinch: all these are examples of how we take shortcuts. The shortcut I took: climbing on a roof that had frost on it. That decision haunts me and my family every day since. It even affects how I do my job. I am thankful I was not completely disabled or worse.
My former co-worker Vic Virgil often said safety is an attitude, and he was 100% correct. It’s a mindset you adopt. Safety first. You intentionally decide not to take risks that will endanger you, or your family, or for that matter, anyone else. You’ll take the time to replace the shields, or stop the equipment before you reach in to clear a jam, or look for obstacles like trees, low hanging electric wires or sink holes that might mess up your day. You do your best to keep yourself and those around you safe. Safety is an attitude.
If you are a parent, much of what your children learn about safety will come from observing you. Do you speed down the road blowing through stop signs? Not wearing personal protective gear when using a chain saw or mixing pesticides? Your kids are watching. It is our obligation to our children to teach them safe ways to grow up around the farm.
And speaking of kids, we have to remember that there are few things more interesting to kids than farm equipment, animals and being around the parents in the midst of both. A few extra moments securing the area when moving cows or equipment are certainly worth more than a lifetime of regret.
Are all accidents preventable? Probably not. You cannot control another person’s behavior. Sometimes, people will get wrapped up in someone else’s mistake. For example, how many people do you know who have been injured or killed by distracted drivers in recent years? I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count. The victims could not do much to prevent what happened, but I can say with confidence the distracted driver knew what they were doing was wrong and ignored it. It was a part of their attitude.
You also cannot control when something is going to break down. A safety chain, a hydraulic hose, a rubber tire, the brakes on your truck, the hitch pin on the wagon. All these things are man-made objects, subject to breakage and the laws of physics. As humans, we have to assume that things are going to break on occasion. We combat serious injury by conducting inspections and doing routine maintenance.
Jeff Burbrink is the extension educator with the Purdue Extension Elkhart County office.