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Another safety article?

I know, safety rarely makes exciting reading. You may be tempted to bypass this article; a few months ago I might have, too. But 2010 dealt some firsthand lessons that have made me take safety much more seriously.

Too often in agriculture we skim the safety advice, thinking accidents can’t happen to us. Unfortunately, accidents do happen, every day, even to the best of us.

Perhaps reading some snapshots of “close-shave” situations from my personal and ag retail experience will pique your interest to help you take safety more to heart.

Lesson No. 1: Always have the proper equipment for the job, don’t leave home without a cell phone or radio, and tell your family and co-workers where you’ll be working in case something happens.

Aug. 11, 2010: A lone hiker staggers from the fog toward our group at 12,000 feet in a remote region of Colorado’s San Juan range. It’s sleeting and windy, and temperatures are only in the mid-30s, but he’s wearing sandals, shorts and a T-shirt. He had left the trailhead that morning in sunshine and 75-degree weather, but got separated from his group (and backpack full of cold weather gear).

Lost and disoriented, he wandered across the mountain for more than an hour before finding us. Luckily, we had extra gear and a radio, or his luck might have been different. This advice applies just as much to farming: Be alert, don’t cut corners and never skimp on safety.

Lesson No. 2: Don’t neglect your health. Get routine physicals and consider learning CPR; it saves lives.

Aug. 20, 2010: A basketball player in my fitness center workout group drops from a heart attack as the game ends. He has no pulse, no respiration, no sign of life. Fortunately, a couple of us were trained in first aid and CPR. Because of this, we were able to support him until the paramedics arrived. These skills can be the difference between life and death for a family member or employee on a rural farm field. (See No. 1 about always having your phone!)

Lesson No. 3: Always wear a seat belt.

Nov. 30, 2010: A truck runs a stop sign, cutting in front of my car as I’m going highway speed. I’m very lucky to be alive, let alone writing articles again for this magazine! I am living proof that seat belts save lives. In agriculture we spend a lot of time on the road in equipment and vehicles; always buckle up!

Lesson No. 4: Always wear gloves and goggles when applying anhydrous ammonia; don’t take chances; be sure the safety water tanks are full and the hoses are free-flowing.

While unhooking an anhydrous ammonia nurse tank from an applicator, one of my employees decides to prop his goggles on his head. The weather had warmed, as sometimes happens during NH3 season, and his goggles had fogged. He reasoned it should be OK, since he was wearing gloves and had used the bleeder valve to drain the excess NH3 from the transfer hose.

As he starts to unscrew the applicator from the nurse tank, he thinks the transfer hose is empty. But this is one of those times when it’s not. The gas finds its way into his eyes, instantly burning both his corneas. Luckily, despite the pain and blindness, he’s able to feel his way to the water safety tank, flush his eyes and then feel his way to the truck to radio for help. He was very fortunate to regain his eyesight in a week.

Lesson No. 5: Read product labels and follow directions, especially on hazards and personal protective gear.

A customer has leafhoppers in his alfalfa field and asks for something to control them. We settle on Furadan and discuss the hazards of mixing and spraying it. Nonetheless, while spraying he becomes very ill. We don’t know if his exposure came during mixing or spraying. While he recovered in a few days, the experience was scary for everyone.

Lesson No. 6: Stay hydrated; be aware of your environment; don’t let yourself get too hot (or too cold in winter).

After working hard in the heat all morning fixing fences and preparing to make hay, a customer becomes violently ill during lunch. If he moved at all, he became nauseated, dizzy and delirious.

The hard work in the heat, combined with some common medications and a lack of hydration, had pushed him to the verge of heat stroke. A trip to the ER and a few days rest, and he was almost as good as new. If he’d ignored the symptoms and worked a bit longer, the ending might have been less upbeat.

I could fill another column with many more safety stories dealing with livestock, equipment, grain facilities and chemicals. But hopefully, you get the drift. Farming today can be a fast-paced, high-octane business.

While technology has paved the way for amazing advances, mechanization has meant mounting pressure to do more, faster. This reality makes taking precautions even more paramount. With spring planting just around the corner, please take a little extra time to put safety first.

McGrath is partnership program manager of ISU’s Corn & Soybean Initiative.

This article published in the March, 2011 edition of WALLACES FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.