No shortcuts to farm safety

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The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a “shortcut” as “a method of doing something more quickly and directly than, and often not as thoroughly as, by regular procedure.”

However, shortcuts on the farm during harvest season are often not the way to make sure you’re safe during a busy time of the year. National Farm Safety and Health Week is Sept. 16-22 this year. There are no shortcuts to safety.

“There are some really common shortcuts farmers take during harvest season,” said University of Minnesota Extension Educator Michael Cruse. “Take the PTO. If you have to get from one side of the tractor to the other, the shortest distance is to step over the PTO. That’s a big no-no. It can do some serious damage or even outright kill you if you’re tangled up in it.

“Here’s another really easy shortcut that folks take,” he added. “Put on your seatbelt. Our newer tractors have built-in roll-over protection structures in the cabs. If you’re wearing a seatbelt, the structure will keep you in a zone that’ll be mostly safe. However, it only works if you’re wearing a seatbelt. It only takes a second to put your seatbelt on, even if you’re in a situation where you’re getting on-and-off the tractor a lot.”

Farm accidents can happen anywhere and at any time. Accidents happen in the farmyard, on the road, and out in the field. One of the items farm accidents tend to center around is the tractor. Cruse said the newer, bigger tractors can be dangerous to operate if farmers aren’t paying 100 percent attention.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re out on the farm or in the field, either,” Cruse said. “Even driving the tractor along our roads with the type of slopes we have here can be dangerous if you wander to the edge of the road with that big vehicle. That’s how rollovers happen.

“Think about what it’s like in the tractor. Not only are [farmers] trying to get from Point A to Point B, they also have a lot of work to do in the new location. They have a lot of potential distractions when they’re out on the road and in the field. There are a lot of blind spots behind those tractors. They’re looking at different monitors. Kids can call. Farmers also have to try and eat sometime. It’s a lot of uncontrolled interactions.”

Combine those distractions with sleep deprivation and the potential for danger is there. That danger can be even worse if kids are helping out with harvest and doing tasks they’re not qualified for. There are tasks kids of certain ages can and can’t do, and it’s vital to know the difference.

“It can be hard to tell farm kids ‘no’ when they want to help out with harvest,” said Emily Wilmes, Stearns County Extension Educator. “I grew up on a farm and I’m sure I did tasks I really shouldn’t have. There’s a great online resource designed to help farmers determine which tasks are appropriate for their kids. The address is

“You can get answers to the questions either by age or by task.It will ask you a series of questions to help you determine if a specific task is age-appropriate for each child. It’s not just about their age, either. If they’re working with equipment, the site will ask how tall the child is, what they weigh, motor skills, and about their cognitive abilities. You’ll go through a checklist to figure out what are the most appropriate jobs for each child.”

The list includes tasks like handling animals, what equipment they can operate, working with chemicals, and many other on-farm jobs. If the checklist determines a task might not be appropriate for a particular child, it will offer up some possible alternative tasks.

Every year, University of Minnesota Extension officials stress the need for farmers to take care of themselves during the demanding harvest season. Wilmes said self-care can really fall by the wayside and that makes a potentially dangerous job even more challenging.

“Something I like to tell people is similar to what they’ll hear when flying on a plane,” Wilmes said. “They tell you to ‘adjust your own oxygen mask before helping someone else with theirs.’ I think that applies to anything else in life, especially when you’re in a really stressful situation. We need to take care of ourselves first, because if we don’t, then we really aren’t fit to take care of anyone else.”

Stress can be amplified in times of low commodity prices, making an already tough harvest season even worse. Cruse said it’s no secret that prices aren’t doing well at all. When you add low prices to the normal stresses of the harvest season, it can take a big toll.

Cruse encourages farmers and their employees to pay attention to the people around them and watch for signs of extra stress. “Midwest farm folks aren’t the most open folks in the world,” Cruse said. “If harvest gets very hard to deal with, there are a number of crisis lines put in place to help farmers out. If it’s a financial struggle that’s dragging someone down, Extension has a Farm Information Line standing by and ready to help.

“We can connect farmers to people that can help with budgets to give them a clearer picture of where they are and how they should be moving forward. There are a number of crisis hotlines in place from the state Department of Agriculture and Extension. We really encourage people to call if things on the farm are too stressful to deal with.”