A few simple precautions and a little bit of common sense can go a long way toward helping prevent farm-related accidents and injuries, especially at harvest time, two Purdue University agricultural educators say.
The biggest lesson to keep in mind is "take your time," said Bill Field, Purdue Extension safety specialist and professor in the university's Agriculture Safety and Health program. Field, along with crop storage expert Klein Ileleji, has been monitoring this year's harvest.
Both analysts say a wet crop and cool weather could lead some farm workers into taking unnecessary risks this year.
"At this time of season, everybody wants to get the crops in before it rains or gets cold," Field said. "Before you even get started on a job, make sure you have enough time to do it thoroughly and safely, and don't rush yourself."
Field said that although the number of overall farm-related fatalities has declined in recent years, the number of entrapments, in which a farm worker falls or climbs into a grain bin or silo and cannot get out, has actually gone up.
More than 1,100 entrapments have been documented throughout the country since 1964. The five-year national moving average of annual grain entrapments grew from 23.0 in 2002 to 38.6 in 2011 then fell back slightly to 36.2 in 2012, according to a 2013 Purdue study.
In Indiana last year, there was one fatality resulting from an entrapment.
"Those numbers are troubling," Field said. "Entrapment is one of the most dangerous situations that can arise on a farm."
Ileleji, associate professor of agricultural and biological engineering, said the key to avoiding entrapments is to make sure the grain is adequately dried before it is stored to prevent caking from moldy grain.
"Wet and moldy grain will not flow freely through a silo during unloading," he said. "Many entrapment accidents happen because people are tempted to climb inside the silo to break up clogs of wet and moldy grain then lose their footing and fall."
Ileleji also advised farmers to avoid putting their hands into a drying machine to remove an obstruction caused by wet grain.
"Every winter we hear about people losing fingers or worse when they stick their hands in a snow blower to clear out ice or debris," he said. "The same principle applies to farm equipment - do not stick your hand in a working machine."
He suggested using a stick to clear jams or, if the problem is serious, calling a certified repair technician.
Field said motor vehicle accidents remain a leading cause of farm-related injuries and fatalities.
The chief culprits are other drivers going too fast for conditions or not granting slower-moving farm vehicles an adequate right-of-way on narrow county or local roads, Field said.
"People need to learn how to share the road," he said.
Farmers also need to be cautious behind the wheel, Field said. Last year, eight of the 18 farm fatalities reported in Indiana involved a tractor, mower or all-terrain vehicle rollover or similar mishap.
"Older tractors are especially dangerous because they typically don't have rollover protection like the newer ones do."
Statistics show that more than 10 percent of Indiana farm families will experience a significant work-related injury in a given year. But Field said farming overall is becoming a much safer occupation due in part to better technologies and practices, as well as a growing awareness of the safety issue.
"There is a wealth of safety information out there, and it's available right on your computer," he said.
Special Report Part I: Farmers should prepare now for post-harvest drying