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Published May 16, 2011, 04:46 AM

Accidents happen when people get in a hurry

FARGO, N.D. — May 5, I drove from Fargo, N.D., to Bismarck, N.D., to cover a court hearing the next morning. It was a beautiful evening, but it was clear that the fields were too wet for this time of year. Almost none of the field work had been done. I counted two planting rigs operating across that 180-mile stretch. I think there was one outfit planting potatoes.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

FARGO, N.D. — May 5, I drove from Fargo, N.D., to Bismarck, N.D., to cover a court hearing the next morning. It was a beautiful evening, but it was clear that the fields were too wet for this time of year. Almost none of the field work had been done. I counted two planting rigs operating across that 180-mile stretch. I think there was one outfit planting potatoes.

I thought to myself: when this country finally gets dry, there is going to be one breathtaking rush of activity.

The next evening, I was driving in the country west of Mandan, N.D., stopping to talk to farmers about how things were going for them. It was a second-in-a-row drying day. It struck me how intense people were, how distracted.

After one of these stops, I was on a major farm-to-market road. Ahead of me on the gravel, I saw the Morton County, N.D., sheriff’s office and the fire emergency crews and a tow truck blocking the road. An anhydrous ammonia tank lay on its back in the ditch and another was on the road.

The spot on the gravel was a bad one in the first place. There was a low spot in the next-door field, with several rows of last year’s sunflowers, sitting in the water. I had driven through that area before and had wanted to take a picture of them, in the waning evening glow. But I had a different picture to take.

I don’t think there were any injuries because of the tank incident. I don’t think any of the firefighters or the sheriff’s deputies were hurt, but I think it’s important for everyone to take a deep breath as we go through the next few weeks. Having worked in the news business for umpteen years, I am especially aware of the casualties that come from people being in a hurry.

They say there are 1.8 million Americans who work full-time in production agriculture. About 800 people die every year from work-related injuries and another 150,000 suffer debilitating injuries and illnesses. Tractor rollovers are a big source of death and injury. One research paper I looked at online says most of the victims are people 60 and older because they’re more likely to use older machines with fewer protections.

Young people do some important work on the farms and ranches in North Dakota. If one of these kids is your child, or grandchild, keep an eye out. It’s good to give them responsibility, but remember that more than 100 youths younger than 20 years old die every year from farm-related injuries. Most are kids 16 to 19. Machinery, motor vehicles and ATVs are the biggest risks.

And if you’re driving anhydrous tanks, the land grant universities suggest inspecting the running gear, tires and lubrication. If you’re towing, make sure the towing vehicle weighs as much as the tank. If the towing vehicle is a tractor, two tanks may be towed at a time, but if it is a pickup truck, only one tank may be towed at a time, says Ohio State University. Keep it under 25 mph, especially on these wet, soggy roads. Make sure the hitch pin has a safety attachment. Use slow moving vehicle signs and make sure warning lights work.

Be quick, yes, but safe.

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