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WOSTER: The farm's a dangerous place

Quite by chance, I surfed onto an online website on farm safety the other day and learned that I'd missed national Farm Safety Week, which was last month.

It doesn't matter. Farm safety is a worthwhile topic any week, because the farm can be a dangerous place. Don't get me wrong. A farm can be a wonderful place to live and work, and for sure the best place in the whole world to grow up, especially in the states in this region. Our farm sure was. But it's in the nature of a farm that many of the chores and tasks and, yes, even games and recreations, can be dangerous.

Apparently it's even more dangerous than it was when I grew up and worked the fields and pastures, because one safety topic on the website I found was titled. "Cellphones and harvest do not mix.'' That's one concern we never had in the old days, but I'd guess a phone would be as distracting on a country lane or in a field of corn as it is on a highway or city street.

We didn't have that worry because our telephone sat on a shelf in a corner hutch, within easy reach of the kitchen table but with a solid connection to the wall behind the hutch. Only the adults answered it or made calls. It was the only phone we had, and it wasn't for the kids to use, not ever.

The farm was plenty dangerous without phones. Handled the wrong way by a careless or reckless operator, a tractor could tip over in an instant. Drive belts and sickle blades and power take-offs had to be respected whenever they were in operation, and that meant taking time to handle things safely and paying attention, even after a late night in town. Every PTO shield I ever saw had a sticker warning that the shield should be kept in place for safety, but not every PTO I ever saw had a shield in place.

I'm not an expert on farm safety, and I did my share of unsafe things while I was growing up and working the fields. I was lucky sometimes. Looking back, I can see that. When I was 15 or so, I figured I was charmed, bulletproof, immortal. I was just plain invincible. That's not a good way to be when you're around the farm.

The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health says on average 113 people under the age of 20 die each year from farm-related injuries. Most of those fatalities involved people ages 16 to 19. One-fourth of the fatalities involve machinery, including tractors, and another 20 percent involve motor vehicles, including all-terrain vehicles. Another 16 percent involved drowning.

The potential farm accidents I saw seemed to involve haste or just being young. It's a fact of farming that many things need to be done quickly. If the wheat is ripe, it needs to be harvested and taken to the elevator in town or the bins in the granary on the home place before a storm comes along to wreck the crop. The need for speed is ever-present.

But I recall my dad, an intelligent grown man, hurrying to get out of the truck box after shoveling off a load of oats, jumping over the side, landing on a dirt clod and twisting his ankle something fierce. He just wanted to get in the cab and back to the field quickly, but there he lay, grimacing and holding his ankle. He hobbled at half-speed for the next few days. It could have been worse.

Being young and foolish was my weakness. Witness the time I nearly tipped a tractor into a washout. I'd been warned not to mow too close to the washout at the edge of the alfalfa field, but I made one more pass than necessary. I don't know why the tractor, after the tires on the uphill side left the ground momentarily, settled back to earth instead of continuing to tip toward the washout.

It's unrealistic to think all farm accidents can be prevented, but it can't hurt to stress that "I'm invincible,'' just isn't true.

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