Sunday, April 10, 2011

Farm Journal: Farm Injuries Are No Laughing Matter

I must now write the blog--and everything else--through DRAGON, a voice-activated diction computer program.

It is been an odd and paradoxical week. Last Sunday when I went to the farm I never anticipated the role that injuries would play on our work.

I was cleaning the kids’ pens when I inadvertently tripped on one of the stall’s baseboards and fell on my left hand. I have never broken any bones, but in this my 60th year, I am faced with a broken radius in my left arm. This “inconvenience” is particularly difficult since I am left-handed.  But I am adjusting and able to do most things for myself.

Fortunately, Kurt was at the ready to help me with solutions. He suggested that I get a computer program that takes dictation. This is especially important since it is only the second week of spring quarter classes.  How would I check papers with comments? In fact, I am writing this report with my new program called Dragon.

Cathy Halinski, a Godsend for the Kleins
But my injury wasn't the only bad luck of the day. Ten hours after I fell, Ron broke his hand.  It was dark and he was getting the injured buffalo heifer Suzie into the barn.  She turned, startled by something, and when Ron moved to avoid her, he broke his hand on the edge of a corral post. How can a farmer run his farm with only one hand? And, how can a dairy farmer milk 10 goats with only one hand--and have enough to feed the growing kids? This is a serious problem! 

After I hurt my hand, I asked Ron how farmers sustain their injuries. He said that just like all working people they just keep going as best they can until the work gets done.  For example, at Windshadow Farm the milk parlor needs to be completed, the animals fed—and for certain the water buffalo are not going to hold back on manure until Ron's cast is off. I didn't believe this completely until I saw Ron working yesterday with his wrapped up hand. He has a splint on now and gets his cast this week. Then it will be six to eight weeks before his cast is removed.

When you break your arm or your hand it is most difficult to try to use it, especially when you have to apply pressure on a task like shoveling compost. I found this out yesterday and hope I didn't further injure my arm or prolong its healing.  Ron was running the tractor to clean the barn but there are too many tasks to do where he needs both hands. So Suzanne, Ron's wife, fills in for him as much as she can. Milking the goats is a prime task to be done and Suzanne has taken it on magnificently.  At her side was Cathy Halinski of EverGreen Lane Farm & Dairy in Fennville, who brought her milk machine and showed Suzanne how to work it. In fact, Cathy came every day last week after she milked her own goats. She then cleaned and sanitized her machine and equipment-loaded them in her car and drove to Bangor! 

On Friday, the Kleins received their own brand-new milk machine and Cathy was again on hand to show Suzanne how to use it. 

This new milk machine is amazing! It takes about four minutes to milk each goat--including thoroughly washing and cleaning the goats. ”Inflations” are attached to the goat's teats, which provide a gentle massage much as as a suckling kid would do. The milk is all collected in one container, the contents of which are poured into two sanitary stainless steel milk containers, which are smaller and more portable. The milk is then filtered, pasteurized and fed to the cohort of rapidly growing kids.  Milk for making cheese and human consumption will not come until after the dairy is licensed as Grade A.

Yesterday, I helped Suzanne with the milking. We even tried a few of the goats who were being allowed to dry up because milking by hand took way too much time that Ron didn't have.  (It usually takes about six weeks before they dry off completely.)  Suzanne is trying to get these goats back into production.

In addition to morning milking, Suzanne also plans to milk the goats in the evening.  With the new milk machine, that is now possible. The Kleins need the milk.  They have been using milk replacer to keep up with the 6 gallons per feeding (12 gallons per day)  that it takes to satisfy the kids.

Another way farming works is that good neighbors help out in an emergency. Mike Sullins and his family have taken on this role by helping to clean the barn. This is particularly essential with baby goats who need as clean an environment as possible. Fortunately, the blueberry and building seasons have not yet started so Mike has been available.

Mike has also been managing the construction of the milk parlor over the past couple months, which is slated for completion at the end of the week. This is a major accomplishment at Windshadow Farm & Dairy as it gets ready for business as a Grade A dairy.

Ron uses tractor to remove compost with Soo's help
After Sue and I milked the goats, we cleaned the water buffaloes' pen, which is always so much more difficult to do because the buffs' droppings are so big and heavy and the floor is brick-like and not smooth. We pushed the straw and manure toward the center of the pen so Ron could shovel it out with the tractor.  Use of the tractor takes probably one quarter the time because we don't have to lift the compost by hand and put it into the tractor. A new attachment will arrive soon to replace the tractor's bucket and this will make this job even easier. The attachment acts like a giant pitchfork that picks up the compost more easily and efficiently. I can hardly wait—as I’m sure Ron can’t!

After we finished the buffalo pen, Suzanne and I cleaned the kids' stalls. This was a piece of cake comparatively! To take the manure out of the barn and onto the compost pile I drove the tractor this time and it only took two trips. We then had to clean the dry lot outside the barn to facilitate drainage.  That was mostly tractor work. 

There certainly is a moral to this story, especially for rookie farmers: Study farm accidents in order to prevent them!


Here are some videos that illustrate what can happen so that farmers can learn how to prevent such accidents.  The featured video illustrates a near miss at the Roloff farm (of TV fame). Other videos of farm accidents are listed in the margins.


Here is also some data on farm injuries and fatalities that was put together by Mark A. Purschwitz from the University of Wisconsin-Madison/Extension in 1997.

       I.            Farm Injury Situation

a.       Worker death rate: Agriculture is one of the two most dangerous industries in the US. The 1996 death rate was 21 per 100,000 workers, compared with 25 per 100,000 for mining and 4 per 100,000 for all industries combined.
b.      Farm Fatalities: In 1996 -- 35 agricultural fatalities in Wisconsin and an estimated 710 in the US.
c.       Permanent, non-fatal farm injuries: Estimated three permanent injuries for every fatality.
d.      Non-fatal farm injuries: One injury for every five farms each year. These are injuries serious enough to require professional medical care or at lest one-half day of restricted activity.
e.       Victims: Age range is wide, from infants less than one year old to persons in their 90's.
f.        Time of year (for fatal and very serious injuries): Harvest months are most common, followed by planting months.
g.       Agent of injury (fatal and very serious injuries): Tractors and other machines are by far the highest; other common agents include confined spaces, falls, falling trees, animals, electrocutions, etc.
h.       Agent of injury (non-fatal injuries): In Wisconsin, the most common agent of non-fatal injury is animals, followed closely by machinery.

       I.            Farm Machines

a.       Tractors are involved in one-third to one-half of all fatal farm accidents.
b.      The tractor overturn is the single most common fatal farm accident.
c.       Being run over by a tractor or implement is fairly common, involving falls from the moving machine or unseen bystanders.
d.      Machine entanglements are a very common form of accident.
e.       PTO shafts and augers are two machine components which are often involved in entanglements.

 III.            Farm Structures

a.       Confined spaces pose life-threatening risks to workers and rescuers.
b.      Manure gas is present throughout the year in enclosed manure storages. The components are hydrogen sulfide, carbon dioxide, ammonia, and methane. Agitation releases high concentrations of gases.
c.       Silo gas can be present in dangerous concentrations up to three weeks after filling. The primary component is nitrogen dioxide.
d.      Oxygen-limiting silos do not have enough oxygen to support life.
e.       Flowing grain in grain bins and wagons can entrap and kill.
f.        Falls from haymows and ladders are fairly common.

I also found this site on Farm Injury Prevention (, which points out that the farm as a workplace remains dangerous with high morbidity and mortality from injury to the worker and often to observing family members. While fatal injury has decreased, nonfatal injuries have increased annually, and long-term disability is significant.1,2,3,4 Multiple factors contribute to the development of and subsequent poor outcome from these injuries with most being amenable to prevention programs. Examples are:

Animals. Agricultural animals pose threat because of size and unpredictability resulting in a high incidence of injury. Animals also pose problems with swerving of cars or equipment at night.
Falls. Often working unprotected at heights.
Weather. Impaired visibility, cold distraction, and equipment malfunction.
Suffocation. Silos and pits present common risk.
Delayed discovery. Often working alone at a distance from help or traffic.
Tractors. Overturns are common cause of severe injury with TBI, SCI, and major thoracoabdominal injuries predominating.
PTO (power take off). These devices deliver energy from the tractor to run other machines. The protective housing is often removed or becomes jammed providing a site for entanglement.
ROPS (rollover protection structures). Often lacking or removed to provide access in low clearance situations.
Chemicals. Pesticides and fertilizers use is common with protective gear use as low as 8% in a recent interview study.5
ATVs. Often used on farms and common cause of injury.
 Human Factors
Age. Extremes associated with increased injury.
Fatigue. Long work hours with backup support unavailable or too costly.
Experience. Unfamiliarity with equipment or the environment increase risk.
Drug or alcohol use. Impaired worker at high risk.
Many of the machinery and environmental problems will improve with ongoing input from the industry ( and Improvements in ROPS,6 supplemental restraints and retrofit safety devices for older equipment are needed. This needs to be encouraged as a matter of public policy and should include financial incentive for development and implementation. Educational programs that emphasize the proper use of protective equipment need local support. Accurate population based data will be necessary to gauge effectiveness of intervention. The National Trauma Data Bank (NTDB) may be a resource for this on the national level but requires more universal submission of data.

The key to the development of an effective farm safety program is a community-based multidisciplinary program that deals with a problem identified locally. Essential to the process is evaluation and measurement of effectiveness, ideally over time to measure duration of effect. Multiple resources are available to develop solutions to the locally identified issues. These include:

American College of Surgeons slide series (
University of California, Davis (
North American Guidelines for Children's Agricultural Tasks (
Farm Safety & Health Clearinghouse (
Farm Safety Just for Kids (
Marshfield Clinic, Wisconsin (

Recent review of farm safety intervention programs indicate that most programs have design limitations that make interpretation of effectiveness difficult.7 The Agriculture Disability Awareness and Risk Education (AgDARE) program attempts to resolve this with a control group and delayed observation of behavior following the program.8 Initial results indicate that this program may be an appropriate tool to use in teaching farm safety in high school agriculture classes. Similar programs need to be developed and their effectiveness measured in a randomized controlled study.

1. Rivara FP. Fatal and nonfatal farm injuries to children and adolescents in the United States, 1990-3. Injury Prevention 3:190-194, 1997.
2. Rivara FP. Fatal and nonfatal farm injuries to children and adolescents in the United States. Pediatrics 76:567-573, 1985.
3. National Safety Council. Injury Facts: 2000 Edition. Itasca, IL: National Safety Council; 44-66, 2000.
4. Bull MJ, Agran P, Gardner H, et al. Prevention of agricultural injuries among children and adolescents. Pediatrics 108(4):1016-1019, 2001.
5. Perry MJ, Marbella A. Layde PM. Compliance with required pesticide-specific protective equipment use. American Journal of Industrial Medicine 41(1):70-73, 2002.
6. Powers JR, Harris JR, Etherton JR, et al. Preventing tractor rollover fatalities: performance of the NIOSH autoROPS. Injury Prevention 7(Suppl 1):154-158, 2001
7. DeRoo LA, Rautiainen RH. A systemic review of farm safety interventions. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 18(4 Suppl 1):51-62, 2000.
8. Reed DB, Kidd PS, Westneat S, Rayens MK. Agricultural Disability Awareness and Risk Education (AgDARE) for high school students. Injury Prevention 7(Suppl 1):159-163, 2001.
Online May 9, 2002


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