COLUMBUS, Ohio — The summer months are the busiest time of the year in Ohio agriculture, and being so, they are also the most dangerous.
Dee Jepsen, Ohio State University Extension's director of agricultural safety and health with the Department of Food, Agricultural, and Biological Engineering, said that farm safety should be a top priority in every farming aspect despite how menial of a task, how easy the task seems or how often it's been done a certain way.
"In the summer, we are unloading grain, harvesting wheat, baling straw and planting. We have every type of farming activity happening simultaneously, and it involves multiple generations," said Jepsen. "It's important that education, training and proper procedures are in place before anyone handles any kind of equipment or participates in any farming activity."
The expert advice comes in the wake of the recent death of a Hebron, Ohio, teenager who fell into a grain bin full of soybeans while attempting to unclog a jam as the bin was being emptied.
Jammed grain-filled bins are not uncommon, and are usually caused by a condition known as bridging — where a surface layer of wet or moldy grain will create an air space between it and the grain below, preventing the grain from flowing out the bottom of the bin. In these situations, someone is required to enter the bin to break up the moldy grain so that grain flow can continue. If a person falls into the air space along with the bridged grain, suffocation can occur within a matter of seconds due to the force and the pull of the flowing grain on the body.
"This is the situation that we had in Hebron. I think it's important that the public knows what happened, and that he wasn't doing anything atypical. This young man was just doing his job," said Jepsen. "But like all other farming accidents, this could have been prevented."
Jepsen said that wearing a full-body safety harness is probably the most important safety tip to reduce the risk of such a grain bin hazard.
"A safety harness definitely would have been a benefit. The victim may not have been pulled completely down into the bin and others may have been able to successfully pull him out," said Jepsen.
When it comes to agricultural-related fatalities in Ohio, grain bin hazards are rare. Between 1995 and 2004, only 11 grain bin and grain wagon-related fatalities were recorded in Ohio. Deaths involving tractors topped the list with 134.
Ohio averages about 26 farming fatalities a year, with July and August being the most active months and about half of all deaths involving young children, teenagers and senior citizens.
"It's important that young people and the older population be a part of the family-farming experience, but we sometimes give them jobs that may not always be the safest," said Jepsen.
The following are some farm safety tips that Jepsen recommends implementing on the family farm:
* Make sure all equipment — from the planter to the combine — is in working order. Replace any faulty parts and don't skimp out on important parts, like guards or seat belts.
* To increase grain bin safety, always wear a safety harness if entering the bin is required. More than one person should be involved: one accompanying the person entering the bin and several more on the ground for communication.
* Always turn off equipment when dealing with jams or clogs. Working machinery can pull you in quicker than you can react.
* Constantly stress education on the farm, whether it's implementing owner safety manuals or conducting safety walks to point out potential farm hazards.
* Match the farm job with the individual with not just his/her physical ability, but also his/her mental ability. Young workers are less experienced and have slower reaction times on the farm than adults.
* Prioritize maintenance based on the season or how often farm employees encounter the hazard.
* Conduct frequent farm safety training.
For additional information on farm safety, log on to Ohio State University Extension's Ohioline Web site at http://ohioline.osu.edu, as well as http://www.ag.ohio-state.edu/~agsafety/. OSU Extension's Agricultural Safety and Health program is also conducting farm safety day camps in Ohio through the fall. The camps are designed to teach children about agricultural hazards and injury prevention. For more information on a day camp in your area, contact Dee Jepsen at (614) 292-6008 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.