Working Safe: Farm Safety Needs to Be Our First Priority

Netflix    Rain has inundated the Dresden Ontario area and it has resulted in delayed planting for your loyal scribe.  I have been here many times before, never really liking it but it is part of the farming life.  I will just have to wait for better days ahead.  Almost always I have corn planted in April, but not this year.  Every year is different and sometimes the weather can be very cruel.

As I’ve grown older I like to think that I’ve become a better manager.  Needless to say, experience plays a large part in that.   As all of you know I think about agricultural economics and agricultural management most of the time.  However, increasingly I’m thinking about farm safety.  As I grow older, not everything is, as it seems.

It’s not that I have been a careless operator throughout my years.  Aside from a few scrapes here and there and maybe a few flat tires on the highway, I have been safe on the farm.  As I grow older, increasingly farm safety is becoming more important to me.  I used to be one of those guys that didn’t always listen very well when the farm safety discussion would come up.   However, now when I see guys working in the field and I get to talk to them I part ways by telling them to work safe.  I guess throughout my life I have woken up to too many terrible surprises where farmers have lost their lives from some terrible miscue along the way.

It is kind of an unwritten truth behind all of our new precision farming technology that there is a hidden danger from within.  For instance when my planter starts to roll when my soil finally gets dry, I’ve got the precision farming technology to go 24 hours a day.  My own eye site to see my mark will no longer limit me.  Every tractor that I drive and spray with will be steering itself.  So in theory, I could never stop.  Unfortunately, in this new farming age, aided by precision technology, that’s not such a good choice.

I first got advised of that many years ago when a researcher told me that the advent of auto steer in our equipment was causing farm safety hazards.  He was referring to planting tomatoes.  If you have ever planted tomatoes before, you will know that tractors go at a creeper speed when they plant.  With the advent of auto steer, the temptation for farmers to put the tractor in creeper gear and get out and look at the job that they were doing was great.  So there were some farm accidents where farmers exited the tractor and terrible things happened in a few cases.  The tractor just kept driving in that straight-line.

It is also the great truth that we have all heard stories about farmers falling asleep and driving into the fencerow or into the ditch.  There are also those that say auto steer is so you can check your twitter feed on the way down the field.  Yes, I know, it’s not really funny.  However, the future is what it is and farm safety still needs to be the prime thing we think about for our families and ourselves.

I remember one of the stupidest things I ever did on the farm, which would’ve been very dangerous.  It was in the fall of the year and I was a finishing soybean.  The combine that I was using was new to me and it had a ledge in the tank, which would often fill up with soybeans.   Typically, when the year was done I would get into the tank and take a couple scoops of it and throw it overboard, as I often would not get to it for a few days.  However, on that day when I finish soybeans for some reason I thought I would hop in and scoop it into the tank and avoid wasting it.  While I was unloading I got out and walked up into the tank from behind.  The combine was idling as it unloaded and I was just about to get into the tank while it was unloading when I stopped myself.  I thought no, this is really stupid getting into the grain tank when it is unloading.  I returned to the cab, finished unloading and moved on.  However, I’ve never forgot the right decision I made in that early evening not to make a bad choice.  It might have resulted in me not being here anymore.

So if you head toward your toolbox to get a tool that you need, arrived there and can no longer remember, it’s not so bad.  Just walk back to the task at hand and you’ll remember what tool you need and you can go back and get it.   Yes, that is funny.  However, when does that thing you cannot remember on the farm come back and endanger you, possibly hurting you or killing you?  Yes, it is a slippery slope.  Simply put, work safe.  Farming can be a dangerous occupation.  Working safely needs to be our first priority.