Farming safer with machines, education

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Story by RC Hansen, NewsNetNebraska

Alan Rohwer, a farmer living outside of Omaha, has seen his share of injuries during his 35 years of farming.

About 15 years ago, he was in a hurry to get a job done. Rohwer did not have a tool in reach so he decided to use his hand. Rohwer said he broke a blood vessel, and it was “pure white and as cold as it could be.”

“I used my hand for a hammer,” said Rohwer. “It still bothers me to this day.”

He said that accident was something that he looks back and thinks he should have taken his time.

Like Rohwer, other farmers must be taking their time and being more careful. Farming injuries are on the decline in the past three years compared to the previous five years combined.

According to the Health and Safety Executive, an online safety website, there were eight deaths per 100,000 in the 2010-2011 year span nationwide. According to the Kearney Hub, 19 Nebraskans died from farming accidents in 2010. Industries that make farming equipment and knowledge are a couple of factors to explain why the numbers are declining. Farmers understand what machines can kill them if they are not safe.

When it comes to farming, it is hard not to hear someone having some sort of injury. Rohwer said he has never heard of anyone who has not harmed themselves when farming.

“It is a dangerous profession,” said Rohwer.

Weather can be a factor in making injuries common. When rain or snow is forecasted while farmers are working, they tend to hurry things. This increases the chance of injuries or death.

Farmers advise others to stay vigilant while working. Loose clothing such as sweaters and coveralls should be tied back or, better yet, wear clothing that does not hang. Many injuries or deaths occur when farmers are in a hurry to get something done. Rohwer said sometimes people can become complacent.

“I don’t know if the right word is stupid or just not paying attention,” said Rohwer.

In terms of equipment, PTO’s – power take offs – and auger blades from tractors are two of the biggest causes of farming accidents. Guards have been put in place because companies have made them mandatory. Safety companies such as OSHA have stepped in to make machinery safer. The technology used today forces machines to shut down when a farmer gets off of them.

“You can still override stuff and do things wrong,” said Rohwer. “When you think about it, the wise thing is no.”

Power take off is a term used when referring to something generated from a power source. Today, motors are covered with plastic shields. Before that shields were made from metal covering dangerous farming equipment. Years earlier before metal shields, nothing protected farmers from harm or death; the blades were exposed to the farmer.

In addition to equipment improvements, education has contributed to better safety also. Orscheln Farm and Home employee Katie Sabata said universities sponsor events to increase awareness.

“A lot of these places sponsor day-camps or weekly camps,” said Sabata. “A lot of equipment has cages over them so the moving parts are not exposed as much.”

Companies have taken more responsibility in making farming equipment safer by placing guards over parts that could cause harm or death. Whether it is in fear of lawsuits, improving technology, or a combination of both, companies are learning how to work with farmers more effectively.

“Companies are realizing they need to make their things safer for everybody so there are less injuries,” said Sabata.

Farming equipment comes with labels that detail how to be safe and what not to do. Those can only do so much, Rohwer said. Ultimately, it comes down to what the farmer is thinking and doing.

“If you’re having a problem, don’t push it,” said Rowher. “Be alert, be watchful of where you’re at and what you’re doing.”