Farming safety goes a long way by preventing tragedy

James Carrabba, center, and Marci Pittman, second from left, agricultural safety specialists with New York Center for Agricultural Medicine and Health, show tubular power take-off shields. The white dummy leaning against the unshielded PTO joining the tractor and manure spreader behind them was shredded a few minutes later when Pittman started the tractor. The demonstration Saturday was part of the Safety Day sponsored by Washington County Farm Bureau.

EASTON Contrary to its wholesome image, farming is one of the most dangerous occupations in the U.S.

With a fatality rate ranked sixth among all industries, accidents with tractors cause about half of those fatalities, agricultural safety specialist James Carrabba told an audience of about 30 farmers and first responders Saturday at the Washington County Farm Bureau Safety Day.

“In farming, a lot of things are out of your control,” such as weather and crop prices, Carrabba said. “But safety is under your control.” Rollover protection systems (ROPS) and seatbelts on tractors, for example, are 99 percent effective in preventing deaths when a tractor goes over, he said.

“We hope people will pick up something that will save a life or prevent a life-changing injury,” said Jay Skellie, Washington County Farm Bureau president. “This is the first time Farm Bureau has done this locally. Safety is a hard thing to sell. No one wants to admit they’re not safe.”

And farming has plenty of hazards. Carrabba, who works for the New York Center for Agricultural Medicine and Health ticked off a list, including large, powerful equipment that often lacks safety features, large unpredictable animals, hazardous working conditions, exposure to dust and toxic chemicals, fatigue, and collisions with non-farm vehicles as farm equipment travels by road between fields. A unique factor in farming is that families live, work, and play on their farms, Carraba said. Children may start working at very young ages, and old farmers may be reluctant to quit.

“Farmers by nature are risk takers,” Carrabba said. “Everything is a gamble.”

Carrabba and his colleague Marci Pittman covered a range of topics, including accident prevention in grain bins and manure pits, preventing power take off (PTO) entanglements, skid steer safety and fire safety. Manure pits and lagoons present special dangers because toxic gases are often undetectable but can be fatal with only a few breaths. It’s not uncommon for manure pits to claim multiple victims as one person is overcome and someone else climbs down to the rescue, only to succumb in turn.

Carrabba and Pittman did a demonstration outdoors on PTO hazards. A newspaper-stuffed dummy leaning against a tractor PTO was rapidly shredded when Pittman turned on the PTO. Carrabba showed a picture of an unshielded PTO draped with clothes, from jeans and jacket to underwear, that it had torn off a farm worker who came too close (the worker survived, with injuries).

Although most of the farmers who came Saturday were dairy farmers, Carrabba said he also does trainings with fruit and vegetable farms. Some hazards on those farms are confined spaces, repetitive motion injuries, toxic chemical exposure, farm machinery, and falls from orchard ladders. NYCAMH’s programs are funded by the state departments of labor and health, so they’re free to farmers. Safety audits are free and confidential.

Firefighters and rescue personnel from Argyle, Middle Falls and Greenwich participated. Argyle Fire/Rescue Chief Glenn Bristol, said he and seven of his members came to learn about farm hazards.

NYCAMH’s mobile health clinic offered vision and blood pressure screenings. Mark Griffin from the Warren Washington Hamilton Cancer Services Program encouraged people with no or low health insurance coverage to take advantage of free cancer screenings.

The event was hosted by Capital-New Holland Tractor.

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