“You have to be vigilant about farm safety and look for things that could possibly happen before you start a task — even if it means letting some hay get rained on.”
That's Tim Kelliher's philosophy on keeping himself and others safe while working his 800-acre farm near Kearney, NE. He learned the importance of taking safety precautions firsthand after a good friend and employee was injured on his farm.
“We had the big baler out in the field getting ready to start harvesting cornstalks and were oiling some chains,” he recounts. “My friend leaned in to inspect some repair work he had done the previous day on the stuffing mechanism — the area between the pick-up and plunger — and the machine engaged.”
Parts of the young man's upper body and right arm were crushed. He spent over a month in a hospital and was unable to continue working for Kelliher.
After the accident, Kelliher spent a lot of time thinking about what he was doing on the farm and how to remove some risk.
“The best way to avoid an accident is to take precautionary steps — don't set yourself up for one,” he says.
Here's some advice he gives to other growers:
“Make sure equipment is shut off before you work on it and that things are properly blocked up before you get underneath them.
“The way to avoid hitting a power line with your loader isn't simply by being careful every time you grab a bale that's underneath one; it's by not placing the bales there to begin with.
“Don't tarp stacks when it's windy just because a storm is moving in. Sometimes you have to let a little hay get rained on rather than risking someone being injured by a fall.
“We used to only put one strap on a load that we were moving a couple of miles, say from the field to the barn. Now we make sure everything is thoroughly strapped, no matter how far we're going.
“If we have a piece of machinery to move on a flatbed — even if it's just a short distance — we put several chains on it.”
While it's not easy for him to talk about the accident, he shares his experiences hoping that they might help others. “Plus, it seems like most farm safety articles are written with grain farmers in mind,” says Kelliher. “There's less information available for hay growers.”
Maybe that's because forage production is one of the safer industries within production agriculture, says David Morgan, University of Nebraska extension safety engineer.
There were 18 farm-related fatalities in Nebraska in both 2006 and 2007. In each of those years, one fatality occurred while a farmer was working with forages, he reports. In one case, a producer fell into a grinder; in the other, a grower was pulled into a baler.
According to the National Safety Council, more than 700 farmers and ranchers die in work-related accidents in the U.S. each year. Another 120,000 ag workers suffer from disabling work-related injuries.