By: Ken Johnson, Interim President and CEO
The service area for Hutchinson Regional Healthcare System is largely rural in population and ranks as one of the nations’ top centers for agriculture production.
It is not uncommon for farms in south central and western Kansas to total several thousand acres, including large herds of livestock. For more than a century, agriculture has been dubbed the backbone of the area’s economy.
For those who earn their livelihood in farming and ranching, most days start before sun up and, if all goes well, end at sun down where multi-tasking is a vital necessity for those who succeed. The hard working Kansas farmer is never hesitant to stretch the final moments of daylight to accomplish required tasks and when that fails, the modern equipment of today is built with lights to illuminate the darkness.
Each year, Hutchinson Regional Medical Center, and in particular the hospital’s Emergency Department, responds to medical emergencies as a result of farm related accidents. These mishaps include everything from a rollover of farm tractors, working too close to equipment in motion, to road collisions that occur while moving equipment from field to field.
Annually, the President of the United States declares National Farm Safety and Health Week and this year the observance is scheduled for September 21-27.
The National Safety Council states agriculture is the most hazardous industry in the nation.
The observance gives the agriculture community pause to reflect on farm safety and the consequences of a split second decision made behind the steering wheel of a tractor or while maneuvering a large piece of equipment across a ditch or waterway. Injury rates are highest among children under the age of 15 and adults over the age of 65.
Statistics for rural and farm related accidents are staggering.
Growing Safety, a national organization promoting agriculture safety, says that rural fatalities account for about 55 percent of all traffic fatalities but only 19 percent of the nation’s population reside in rural areas.
The National Education Center for Agriculture Safety reports that 36 percent of farmers spend an estimated 50 hours each year moving equipment on public roads but herein lays the problem. Most rural paved roads are no more than 20 feet wide while more than two thirds of today’s modern farm equipment exceeds 13 feet in width.
Time is of the essence for any farmer, but leaving home a little early and allowing more time to reach the desired destination is the safest advice to give.
Many farm accidents occur on rural roads when farmers make a left turn while pulling a piece of farm equipment. Sometimes, the tractor operator may misjudge the close proximity of oncoming traffic as will a vehicle approaching from the rear who may think there is sufficient time to pass. Perhaps, the best advice may be for both parties to check their blind spots before starting the turn.
For motorists traveling through rural areas, patience for the driving public is a vital necessity. Passing farm machinery on a yellow line, curve or hill only increases the risk of serious accidents. Motorists need to be patient enough for farm operators to find a pull-off for safe passage of faster moving vehicles.
Nationwide Agribusiness says fires are a frequent cause of farm accidents and injuries. Failed bearings on farm equipment along with brakes and electrical equipment may start fires. This safety organization recommends that farmers may wish to consider the purchase of dry powder extinguishers—one for the operator cab and a second which can be accessed from the ground. Long-handled shovels and rakes are suggested and may prove almost as beneficial as a burst of water in containing a farm related fire.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports that most farm accidents and fatalities involve machinery which is even more reason to perform equipment maintenance in a timely manner. Seat belts are legally mandated standard operating procedures for cars and the same is recommended for tractors.
According to OSHA, educating your workers on safety hazards and emergency procedures ranks close to the top of safety tips for all farmers. Whenever possible, it is recommended that rollover protective structures be placed on as much farm equipment as possible.
It goes without saying that a safer and more healthful workplace improves morale and productivity.
Then, there is the issue of railroad tracks, which may seem like a frequent obstruction throughout rural America. When crossing a railroad track, one should expect a train regardless of the assumed schedule.
Kansas farmers remain the undisputed global leader in food and livestock production, a statistic that increases with each passing year.
This month, Hutchinson Regional Healthcare System joins the nation in paying tribute to Kansas farmers, ranchers and farm workers and thanks them for feeding the world.
We hope all their future harvests will be bountiful and safe.