Farmers know when they're doing something unsafe.
Regardless of the risk, many of them choose to do it anyway. University of Illinois' Chip Petrea has studied the behavioral side of farm incidents for many years. After losing both his legs in a baling incident, Petrea wanted to know why farmers make risky choices when caught in stressful situations.
Operating a combine, driving tractors and unloading semis are potentially dangerous tasks. However, harvest brings two key components that ratchet up the potentially lethal consequences even further – stress and sleep deprivation.
Get some sleep
Most of the state's farmers experience some sort of sleep deprivation throughout the growing season. Petrea says eight hours is the average requirement for most people. Some bodies need more; others can get by on less.
When that minimum isn't met, the body develops a sleep debt. Petrea says a serious sleep debt can impair judgment in the same manner that two beers would.
He also cautions that catching quick naps here and there won't make up for a full night's rest. There are five stages of sleep. The last is Rapid Eye Movement sleep. Just prior to reaching REM, the brain achieves a restful state in stages three and four, Petrea notes. At this point, the brain goes into a maintenance cycle, which helps alleviate the day's stress.
"Don't worry," you say. "I'll go hard and then catch up when it rains."
It's a nice thought. But, Petrea says it isn't practical.
"You can't catch up from five days of sleep deprivation in one weekend," he notes. At most, the body can make up for about one hour of lost sleep per day.
And don't try to take long naps during the day. Messing up the nightly sleep routine will only compound trouble, Petrea adds.
Stress impairs judgment
Stress is the other hazardous harvest component. It often creates an inability to concentrate. Thinking clearly can be nearly impossible when severely stressed.