Last Tuesday we hit a milestone at the farm..we reset the clock…we got a do-over…we started from scratch: We went to 0 Days since our last work place injury. The short version is that a couple hours in the ER, 8 stitches, and a broken bone in the hand later one of the boys (technically, one of MY Boys-My #2 boy by choice and not blood or relation) was back home holding his baby boy Parker. The long version is that farming is one of the most dangerous occupations and accounts for a large amount of workplace injuries and fatalities. In fact, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) “Agriculture ranks among the most hazardous industries. Farmers are at high risk for fatal and nonfatal injuries… Farming is one of the few industries in which the families (who often share the work and live on the premises) are also at risk for injuries, illness, and death.” Even in our quiet, under populated corner of the world the sharp and stinging reality of statistics far too frequently jolts us out of our complacency and comfort. When you grow up in a farming family and in a farming community the stories, the memories and the evidence by manner of crooked backs, legs that don’t straighten decades after being crushed by a tractor, scars that were hastily stitched up, aches and pains that still recall a body that met its match with an angry, calf crazy cow, and even more poignantly by the processions and flowers that accompany final goodbyes are hard to ignore.
And yet, we become complacent. We become lazy. And cocky. And forgetful….and we begin to rely on luck instead of common sense. It happens to all of us. How many bypass start prevention kits that were installed by John Deere in the late 80s still remain intact? Not very few I will wager. How many seat belts in skidsteers are fastened but not around the operator? How many folks drive a tractor with a ROPS folded down, or worse, without wearing the seat belt? Safety glasses, fire extinguishers, PTO shields, fender riding, loose clothing, grain bins, chemicals, manure pits, animals….and on and on and on….So many precautions and protections it sometimes feels like that if one were to take all the steps necessary to prevent injury the last thing to be accomplished would be the actual job at hand.
Then reality happens. The one thing you can’t plan for or prevent: an accident. So, long story short- when accidents happen it is a slight comfort to know that the correct precautions were taken and that when it happened everyone reacted and responded well. In our case it was a clogged merger. This relatively benign piece of equipment trails behind the tractor and and uses rotating “teeth” to pick up cut hay in a windrow and deposit it on a belt conveyor which empties it off to the side and adds it to the adjacent windrow, thus “merging” the two windrows into one. After becoming gobbed up with the grass my #2 Boy, Devon Watson, proceeded to “un-gob” it, AFTER disengaging the PTO (basically turning the merger “off” and following proper procedure) and when the pressure was relieved parts that had been immobilized were once again able to move…and did so quickly and with great force. Moments after the blood started flowing Devon had the shirt off the back of my #1 Boy (my son) to staunch the bleeding , was getting a very expeditious ride to hospital in a silage truck driven by Danny Bickford, and receiving orders on the phone such as “Apply pressure and keep the wound elevated above your heart” from a very crotchety, concerned old lady-me. We are extremely fortunate to have so many medical facilities in such close proximity to us and have availed ourselves of the ER many a time and even a LifeFlight to a trauma center on occasion.
After some triage and emergent care the pain was under control and the bleeding stopped and the waiting for a spot in X-ray and a doctor consult in the very busy ER began…and the review of what went wrong commenced. In all actuality Devon did everything correctly, except perhaps to have more experience with the equipment and understand even better just how it worked. Perhaps that might have changed how he approached the problem, but the fact is that sometimes the only way to avoid these types of things is to stay home in bed.
And that’s the real rub…that there are so many things that are not within our control; so many details we cannot foresee; so much we can not prevent and yet the stakes are just as high with the things we have command over. A little time in the ER to contemplate this makes it all so crystal clear that the safety, precaution and prevention that sometimes seems so tedious and superfluous, and are so easily and casually tossed aside in favour of perceived productivity and expeditiousness, is indeed worth the time and effort because while rain be coming; cows need to be milked; feed needs to be put up…and daylight’s a burnin’ we farmers are all just a day away from being 0 Days since our last workplace injury, or worse.
Because the reality is that what we farmers do is one of the most dangerous professions in the world and while our family farm is back to 0 Days we got lucky; we got a do-over and get to start from scratch, and Little Man Parker gets to be held by his Daddy tonight and the inconvenience of caution and safety will seem, for at least a little while, worth all the trouble.