Extension course helps youth understand farm dangers message

Safety first.

A tradition of teaching youth farm safety continues in rural counties in the heartland.

A program by the Kansas State University Extension service was conducted before 40 youth from multiple counties during an all-day tractor safety operator’s course recently on the campus of Dodge City Community College.

Gray County Extension agent Kurt Werth, who has helped teach the course for 25 years told the youth, “I’ve had no one get hurt and I pray that will continue.”

Students learn basic tractor safety operations, recognizing that a farm tractor is a tool most youth will use. The message of safety first resonated with young operators. The course also addresses safety staples such as power take off, trailer hitches, paying attention to gauges and leaving the engine turned on. Transporting equipment along busy highways, how to use a fire extinguisher, working with livestock and summer weather precautions.

Drew Dansel, Jetmore, planned to work for a farmer this summer. Dansel, age 14, will be a freshman at Hodgeman County High School.

The curriculum was right in its approach, he said. “It helps you learn how to safely run tractors and equipment, what to do and what not to do.”

The course also looked at other hazards today’s farm youth may face.

Dansel particularly paid attention to a seminar on anhydrous ammonia and the hazards of working in a grain bin. He said the class taught him to think twice about safety and not taking anything for granted.

Safety precautions will help if Dansel ever faces an unexpected problem on the farm. 

Tractor safety

Andrea Burns, Ford County Extension agent, said tractor rollovers account for 36.7 percent of farm fatalities and is the leading cause of deaths in farm accidents. There are other ways a tractor can be dangerous: a fall from steps, electrocution by “arcing” it to try to start it, getting caught in a power take off or having it slip into gear and running over the operator.

“You always need to think twice before you even start a tractor,” she said.

Farm tractors over 20 horsepower that were manufactured after Oct. 25, 1976, are required to have a rollover protective structure to protect the operator in case of a roll over, she said. Wearing a seat belt is important. Even as today’s tractors are equipped with satellite guided auto-steer the operator must pay attention and she cautioned the young drivers, “Do not permit others to ride with you.”

Burns noted that a third of accidents occur on public roads.

PTO accidents occur when clothing and longer hair get caught in a rotating shaft that is used to operate balers, mowers and several types of grain handling operations. At 540 revolutions per minute, a PTO shaft can pull a person in at 2 yards a second. Burns reiterated the need for safety shields to be in place at the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Other hazards include batteries and hydraulics, and instructors told students to keep protective eye gear on while working with them. Keep small children away when working with batteries and hydraulic equipment.

Burns told participants to expect the unexpected. She told the story of a combine operator who encountered a jam in the straw walkers. He shut off the combine but left the key in the combine. He crawled up inside the machine to remove the jam. Meanwhile his dad showed up and didn’t know the son was inside the combine and started the combine and it “shoved him out the back,” Burns said, adding the son was fortunate to be alive.

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“It could have all been prevented if the son had taken out the key and put it in his pocket,” Burns said. 

Quarter century of teaching

Werth and Hodgeman County agent DeWayne Craghead have both dedicated many years to the tractor safety course. They said training is as vital today as it was 25 years ago. Today, youth need to pass a test and have two hours of supervised training. They took a test that included a battery of true and false questions and multiple-choice questions.

“We all have a passion to teach safety. We work in an industry in which we have a higher rate of accidents than many others,” Craghead said. “This is the right age to talk about those hazards.”

Werth said the program has recognized industry changes to higher horsepower tractors and larger equipment, plus no-till practices that have meant paying closer attention to chemical application.

Accidents too common

When asked by instructors if they had a family member or knew of someone who had been impacted by a farm accident a significant number of hands went up.

Agents shared stories of near-misses and fatality accidents and what was the cause.

Instructors told the students if an operator does not understand a farm operation, it is a danger to themselves. During a discussion on grain bin safety several instructors pointed out the danger of being engulfed by grain and suffocation that can occur inside the bin.

Equipment operators should always anticipate blind areas, whether driving a tractor through an intersection or discharging a round bale in a hay field.

Although today’s equipment has more safety features than Craghead had when he was a kid, operating farm equipment is still a dangerous occupation as long as there is a human element to it.

“I think these programs are well worth it,” he said. “Some of the kids will be able to take the knowledge they have learned and show it to their grandpa and that can help prevent a future accident. “

Craghead and Jeff Cole, a professor of automotive technology at the college who grew up on a farm near Jetmore, agreed that operators should thoroughly read the operators manual, regardless of the age of a tractor. If an operator’s manual is missing, buy a new one and read it.

“If you are unfamiliar with a tractor, even if it is a new one, read up on it, before starting it,” Cole said.

Cole said before pulling an implement down the road make sure all the wings are properly locked, too.

While the agents and teachers were proud of the safety exhibited by tractor course operators, they also know they are only one serious accident away from having a blemish on the record. That was one reason they eagerly set up a rigorous day of training.

ATV safety

Werth has been instrumental in developing an all-terrain utility vehicle safety program that could start in southwest Kansas in 2019. The news is filled too often with fatality accidents and serious accidents, often from rural areas, he said, and it impacts all ages.

“Every farmer has one and he uses it nearly every day to check wells, spray pastures and do other chores,” Werth said. “They are everywhere and people need to get training.”

Dave Bergmeier can be reached at 620-227-1822 or [email protected].