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Experience can help, hinder farm safety
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Experience with farm equipment can increase a person's safety, but the safest farmers are the ones who survive accidents and know what can happen in a split second.
"It takes a long time to tell my story, but the actual accident probably took less than 25 seconds. One little miscalculation can be life threatening. You can die so quickly," said accident survivor Kinney Carlton of Adams County.
It was Labor Day 2003 when Carlton decided to take his tractor to a remote field to break up a wildlife food plot. He made a closer-than-normal pass to what appeared to be a low limb. His movement released the wood with the force of a cannon and sent Carlton off the back of his tractor and under the disk. Unconscious for part of the torturous journey underneath the disk blades, Carlton remembers waking up as the tractor crept forward and knowing he needed divine intervention.
He was severely cut by the disk blades before the tractor finally hit a nearby tree and halted. With the wheels still spinning, Carlton managed to free himself from under the disk and pull himself to open ground. It was near 5 p.m., but his family did not become concerned by his absence until dark, and it took another hour to find him.
"Now whenever someone is out mowing or disking, we leave explicit details on where we will be," Carlton said. "Roads and fields are named and clearly marked."
The older tractor Carlton was using needed a sturdier seat, a seatbelt and rollover protection. He still would have been injured by the blow to his chest, but he would not have had the life-threatening wounds, months of rehabilitation and enormous hospital bills that followed.
"I encourage people to upgrade their equipment. Add rollover protection on older tractors. Make sure the seats are sturdy, and remember that seatbelts are on tractors for a reason, even in cab tractors," Carlton said. "If just one person takes steps to be safer and it saves one life or one medical bill, it's worth spreading the word."
Herb Willcutt, agricultural engineer and safety specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, spends much of his time preaching that sermon.
"Most of the accidents are not by commercial farmers; they are by people who farm a few acres in their spare time or who maintain a rural homestead," Willcutt said. "Many of these victims use older equipment without safety features and often are not very familiar with how to operate it."
Of the 18 to 24 agriculture-related deaths in Mississippi each year, about half of them are attributed to tractor rollovers.
"Older tractors are not equipped with rollover protection structures and other safety devices, but they can be retrofitted for less than $1,000," Willcutt said. "This is a small investment when you consider the dangerous alternative."
The second most frequent cause of death is from being run over by tractors or equipment. Willcutt encourages operators to maintain tractors so that they will start from the seat and do the job without a breakdown. Victims of run-overs often are passengers or people caught between pieces of equipment when the tractor is started.
Transporting equipment on public highways also increases safety risks. Farmers should travel roads during low-traffic times of the day and mark equipment so it can be seen easily and recognized readily. Motorists should watch for farm equipment and take necessary precautions. Be aware of passing and oncoming traffic, sudden turns and lane changes as farmers dodge obstacles such as sign posts and bridge abutments.
"There is a tremendous number of tractors on trailers without proper tie-downs and lighting (running lights, side lights, tail/brake lights and turn signals)," Willcutt said. "Mississippi law requires any trailer carrying a load of more than 2,000 pounds to have brakes on all wheels, and the average tractor weighs more than that. Secondly, they need to have a truck that is powerful enough to stop the load safely if the trailer brakes fail."
Other safety equipment includes chains on the hitch capable of handling the load size, a side rail or anti-skid rail to keep the tractor from sliding off the side, and adequate ramps to support the load. Weak ramps could cause the tractor to overturn. Secure the load to the trailer, preferably with at least two chains to prevent sideways or forward/backward movement.
Willcutt encouraged those transporting heavy loads to maintain proper tire pressure on trailers and to tow at a safe speed for traffic and road conditions.