This month marks 20 years since my husband lost his right arm because of a farm accident. My husband is not a careless person. In fact, some of his co-workers ribbed him about the precautions he took and expressed shock when the guy they least expected to have an accident had one.
The conveyor belt on a live-bottom trailer moves thousands of pounds of potatoes with the aid of rollers. (If you’re familiar with old-fashioned ringer washing machines or those wringers they use at the car wash to squeeze your chamois, you’ll understand the concept.) When Jon reached up from beneath the belt to brush away accumulating clods of dirt that were causing the belt to off-centre, his glove got too close to the rollers. They grabbed his glove and pulled his hand through, holding it in place while the rollers skinned his forearm. In the time it took coworkers to shut off the motor, his arm was damaged beyond repair and surgeons amputated it later the same day.
A split second was all it took.
Did Jon know the power of that equipment? Sure he did. It just wasn’t the foremost thought on his mind in that moment. It happens to all of us, but sometimes it’s a lot more costly than other times.
I’m glad to report that in the next generation of this particular piece of equipment, the designers modified it to make reoccurrence of this accident less likely for someone else. But the farm environment will always involve serious equipment, chemicals, and other hazards that can trip up workers in a weak moment.
Last month, the Daily Graphic ran a farm safety article submitted by Manitoba Agriculture, Food, and Rural Development (MAFRD) which included a long list of tips for avoiding the shortcuts and unsafe practices that can go along with the fatigue and stress surrounding harvest time. You can locate it here: www.portagedailygraphic.com/2015/08/13/stay-safe-during-harvest
I’d like to encourage you to find that list, print it out, and post it around your farm. Take the tips seriously and don’t allow any farm workers to brush them off. The few seconds they might gain by hopping off a piece of still-moving equipment or by not performing a walk-around check to ensure no one is nearby before taking off will never be worth a loss that can affect the rest of their life. Ask any member of the Manitoba Farmers with Disabilities. Although my husband has learned to manage admirably well without his right arm, please don’t think for an instant that he wouldn’t give almost anything to go back and do that one moment differently.
And if you have experienced a serious work-related accident, or if someone has been badly injured at your own farm, please forgive yourself. Mishaps occur even when all precautions are followed. One freak accident does not make you a stupid person or an uncaring employer. (We’re grateful for an employer who kept Jon on staff and treated us very well.)
Nor does it mean you should quit. If farming is your passion, then farming is what you should do. A poem called “The Dignity of the Farmer” (author unknown) includes these words: “The farmer’s calling is among the noblest in all the world…The successful farmer is the one who produces more than he needs, and thus helps others to eat and prosper. The farmer should recall all this…in grateful appreciation of the calling God gave him as a tiller of the soil.”
Remember, farming is everybody’s bread and butter. So for those of you who pray, pray for a safe harvest this year, whether you’re in agribusiness or not. I’d just as soon other families don’t have to mark anniversaries they’d rather forget.