Farming one of most unsafe occupations

September 24, 1997


Staff Writer, Chambersburg

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Greencastle, Pa., dairy farmer Clark Barr knows he's lucky he got away with just a swollen leg after the tractor he was driving Monday afternoon turned over, pinning him underneath.

Barr, 28, also admits that he went against every farm safety guideline in the book by fooling around on farm equipment. His Case 1594 tractor flipped on its side when he turned a corner too fast in pursuit of a groundhog in a corn field.

"It was a stupid thing to do," Barr said, obviously embarrassed, his leg elevated and packed in ice.

Luckily his uncle, Richard Burcker, was operating a backhoe just a few hundred yards away when he heard his nephew yelling for help. He was able to lift the tractor with the backhoe as a passing motorist who stopped at the scene pulled Barr out from underneath.


His aunt, Lorraine Burcker, who also heard the yelling, called 911.

"He is one lucky young man," she said.

Barr spent the night in Waynesboro Hospital under observation and was released late Tuesday afternoon.

This week marks 54 years of recognition as National Farm Safety and Health Week. But despite increased awareness, attempts at education and the production of safer farm equipment, working on farms remains one of the top five most dangerous occupations, according to agriculture officials.

"It has as much to do with the number of hours of exposure to dangerous situations than anything else, and the law of averages catches up," said Craig Yohn, Jefferson County, W.Va. extension agent.

Working around machinery and animals combined with fatigue, carelessness, being in a hurry, or having little operating experience too often turns into serious and deadly accidents.

Last year in Pennsylvania, 44 died in farm-related accidents, up 13 percent from the 39 deaths in 1995, according to a report by Dr. Dennis Murphy of Pennsylvania State University, State College, Pa.

Of those fatalities, 38 involved tractors or other machinery, one was killed by a bull, three fell from buildings and two were chemical-related, according to the report.

Five of the deaths occurred among children ages 10 to 14; 19 involved farm workers over the age of 60; and nine occurred in the 35-44 age bracket, the report states.

Reports of accidents involving farm equipment on roads and highways is also increasing in the Tri-State area, according to the extension agents.

"At one time or another, most individuals working on a farm have either seen or had some experience with a farm accident relating to an injury of some type," said Yohn, who has experienced the loss of friends in farm accidents and remembers when his 72-year-old grandfather was injured when his tractor flipped over.

But, as in Barr's case, most farm accidents don't have to happen.

"Farm accidents are almost always preventable ... Almost invariably it did not have to happen," said Don Swartz, Washington County extension agent.

"I've heard it over and over. A lot of them say they should've known better or `I shouldn't have done it.' But there again, they're not taking the time to think about safety," said William Reagan, Franklin County extension agent.

The risks increase especially during the busy planting and harvesting seasons, when farmers tend to push themselves harder and longer, rely on young, inexperienced children for extra help, or take shortcuts to save time, all of which are accidents waiting to happen.

"They may have done it, maybe stepped over a PTO shaft 99 times, but it's the 100th time that they get caught," said Mary Beth Bennett, extension agent with the West Virginia University Cooperative Extension in Berkeley County, W.Va.

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