Recent accidental deaths focus on need for more farm safety
The deaths of three children and two teenagers in the past two weeks because of farm accidents serve as a brutal reminder of the importance of farm safety as summer approaches.
Nebraska’s Emily Guerra, age 2, died when she fell off a spooked horse while her father was helping to brand calves. Austin Reuter, a 7-year-old from Iowa, died after an ATV rolled over him during evening chores, and Travis Flory, a 3-year-old in Wisconsin, was killed when he was accidentally run over by a skid steer his brother was driving.
Most recently, two brothers and their father were found dead in a large manure pit on their dairy farm in Pennsylvania. Associated Press identified them as 18-year-old Kelvin Nolt, 14year-old Cleason Nolt and their 48-year-old father Glen Nolt.
“These incidents are just a snapshot,” Tracy Schlater, marketing director of Farm Safety 4 Just Kids said. “Unfortunately, it’s a continuous snapshot. We could go back two more weeks and find three or four more incidents. Farm safety has been an ongoing issue for many years.”
Farm safety is an issue Kristi Ruth of Chariton, IA, knows all too well. A beautiful morning on Feb. 18, 2007, turned into a nightmare and an emergency helicopter ride to a hospital to fight to save her arm.
Kristi, 15 years old at the time, had recently purchased heifers to earn money for college. She was digging postholes with her two brothers and father for a head gate by the barn on
their family farm. The February ground was frozen, which made the task difficult. The head of the auger began to shake. Kristi carefully placed one hand on top and one hand on the bottom to stabilize it.
“Dad kept telling us to get away. I was more worried about my older brother Jake getting caught in it,” Kristi said.
Kristi’s father, Joe, reached to turn the PTO shaft off. As the PTO shaft slowed down to stop, Kristi’s glove unexpectedly got caught on a shear bolt that was a quarter inch too long; her left arm wrapped around the PTO shaft four times up to her shoulder and brought her chest to the bar.
“You can’t even describe how bad it was seeing a child wrapped up in a piece of equipment,” said Joe in a recent interview.
Joe quickly lifted the digger out of the hole and had to pull the tractor ahead with Kristi still in the PTO in order to unhook the digger. Jake pulled out his old pocket knife from his coat and carefully cut Kristi’s coat so he could unwind her arm.
“He would pass my hand over to me, and I would pass it back over the bar to him. When it finally came off the shaft, my finger tips were below my knees when I was standing up, and my hand was bent back to where my elbow was,” Kristi said.
Kristi’s glove had a small rip and her coat was completely intact, but underneath the layers, her arm was mangled and the doctors would later discover traumatic fractures, skin loss, and muscle and nerve damage.
“I’ve seen other people injured, but when it’s your own child, it’s a hundred times worse. You think of a hundred different things you should have done differently,” Joe said.
Kristi was rushed to Des Moines, IA, by a helicopter. “I kept thinking my ag teacher is going to kill me,” Kristi recalled.
Two weeks earlier, Kristi had advanced to FFA districts in a public speaking contest with a speech on the four deadliest causes of tractor accidents, and PTO accidents were the fourthdeadliest cause. Much of her interest in farm safety was sparked when her uncle was killed by a tractor rollover in March 2005.
“I was reciting my speech and trying to keep my mind off things. I was focused on how I was going to live, not what was happening at the moment,” Kristi said.
When Kristi first arrived at the hospital in Des Moines, the surgeon said the hospital staff was going to have to cut off her arm at the shoulder because there was nothing they could do about it. The surgeon added if Kristi was his daughter, she’d be on her way to Iowa City for better treatment.
Joe decided they would fly to Iowa City where advanced surgery techniques and facilities gave Kristi a better chance of saving her arm.
When Kristi arrived at Iowa City, the doctors took a vein out of her leg and placed it in her arm immediately. Doctors began to fill her arm with metal to heal crushed bones and her shattered elbow. Kristi remained in the hospital for 11 days, drifting in and out of consciousness before becoming an outpatient.
Five years later, Kristi is again dealing with doctors as she experiences complications with her arm that could lead to amputation.
“It’s hard not knowing what is going to happen,” Kristi said.
Through all of this, Kristi has kept a positive attitude. “If they were to amputate my arm, I’ve already learned to do things one-handed. No matter what happens, be positive. It just helps so much,” she said.
Kristi is only one out of thousands of children and youths who suffer injuries from farm accidents each year. Injury rates are highest among children age 15 and under and adults over 65, according the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Nearly 700 youth died between 1995 and 2000, or an estimated 139 per year, because of farm accidents. The three leading sources of farm accidents are tractors, farm machinery and livestock.
“Prevention through education is the best way to stop farm accidents,” said Schlater.
According to the National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety, farm injuries for youth under 20 decreased by an estimated 60 percent from 1998 to 2009.
Families should do a walkthrough of the farm and discuss the hazards with their children. It’s one thing to talk about safety, it’s another to physically show kids where dangers are on the farm and what they look like, Schlater said.
The biggest impact a parent can have is being a good role model and setting an example, said Schlater.
It also includes keeping a careful eye on kids at all times and being aware of what could happen.
“When people become complacent, that’s when accidents happen. I wasn’t concerned about my daughter because she was always the careful one in the family. It can happen to anybody,” Joe said.
The Department of Labor (DOL) proposed a controversial rule in September 2011 that would limit children’s involvement in agriculture operations. Due to the outcry of farmers and ranchers from across the country, DOL withdrew the proposed rule.
“Instead, the departments of labor and agriculture will work with rural stakeholders—such as the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Farmers Union, the Future Farmers of America, and 4-H—to develop an educational program to reduce accidents to young workers and promote safer agricultural working practices,” said a statement from DOL. — Lindsay Calvert, DTN