MAROA — As farmers outside prepare for one of their busiest, and most dangerous, times of the year, students inside Maroa Forsyth High School on Thursday got a crash course in farm safety and awareness.
Agriculture experts visited the school for a kickoff to National Farm Safety Week, Sept. 16 to 22. Farm Credit Illinois hosted the event for high school students to learn tips for staying safe on the farm and around farming equipment on roads — an increasingly common occurrence during the upcoming harvest season.
Thousands of people are killed or injured on U.S. farms each year. The Herald & Review last month reported in a four-day series on the inherent dangers in the agriculture industry and how experts and farmers are working toward solutions.
One step toward preventing farm injury is to avoid risky behavior and keep in mind the dangers of heavy machinery, said Bob Aherin, a professor who runs the Agricultural Health and Safety Program at the University of Illinois and researches farm injury causes, who was featured in the series.
“You have to understand how to minimize risks,” he said. “And see what the problems could be if something goes wrong.”
Injuries can happen when people get complacent with safety and engage in risky behavior, he said. They can result in the emotional cost of an injury or a death, which people may never recover from, as well as a financial cost. An injury causes lost work time, medical costs and the decreased productivity of the farm.
“Many farmers don’t do a good job of understanding risks,” he said. “They don’t plan for risks.”
While technology advancements have led to all kinds of tools to make farming safer, three students offered their suggested resource in a good old-fashioned binder. Cody Groves, Hanna Lyon and Ashley Miller presented their project to fellow students and Future Farmers of America students as part of the event.
The binder included important information both for farmers and rescue workers who might visit a property, such as a checklist of where certain items are kept. It used a satellite image of a farm to show the location of water sources and fire hydrants, gas and propane, electrical boxes, fire extinguisher and first aid kits, chemicals, height hazards, protective equipment and a storm shelter.
The goal is to get farmers thinking about their property and the dangers and resources they have available to them in case of emergency.
The students said they are interested in continuing the project with other farmers throughout the community. They might use a drone to get aerial views of the farms to provide the most up-to-date pictures possible for the binder.
“I do think the kids are going to take that into a service project and help farmers create those binders themselves to have them on hand and in the shops,” said Cassie Crouch, who teaches agriculture at the school and is its FFA adviser.
The project is especially exciting because it allows FFA members to get involved in the community, Crouch said. “I think it will multiply very quickly,” she said.
Jason Eardley, director of health and safety for Archer Daniels Midland Co.’s origination business unit, emphasized staying aware, avoiding harmful situations and having a safety plan to follow at all times.
Eardley stressed the dangers posed by grain bins. Farmers who enter to clean or break up crusted grain could be buried in a matter of seconds. Seventy-one people in Illinois were killed in grain bin accidents between 1986 and 2016, according to data collected by the University of Illinois extension.
He recommended that farmers calculate how much grain was put into the bin and how much has been let out for an idea of what should be left. This can allow farmers to identify when there may be a hidden pocket or pyramid of grain, which are dangerous for someone to be in the grain bin with.
Eardley said ADM has equipment available for farmers if they need additional assistance with clogged grain bins or other potentially dangerous situations.
“We have equipment,” he said. “And we are happy to help.”
He said mistakes can also happen when people are rushing to get farm tasks completed such as during planting or harvest. People might make decisions they wouldn’t otherwise, which can lead to dangerous working conditions.
“There is pressure,” he said. “That is when mistakes happen, even if you know better.”