Save Your Fingers, Save Your Life

  • Demmin, Darcy M.

The parts of the body most often involved in farm accidents are the fingers and hands. They account for about 26 percent of all farm injuries. Add to that the fact that the feet and toes are involved in about 11 percent of all farm accidents and one can see that the extremities account for more than one-third of all farm injuries. The sad truth is that all of these injuries can be avoided.

Farm accidents don't just happen to the inexperienced worker. Men and women who have been farming for years and have a good safety record can still be the victim of a serious injury to the extremities. The results can range from loss of extremities to loss of life. Often, a finger or toe will be caught initially, followed by a limb or even the entire body being drawn into a piece of machinery.

The average farm is full of pinch points, shear points, wrap points, crush points, pull-in points, and free wheeling parts that can grab, cut, smash, and entangle fingers, hands, toes, and feet. The following pieces of machinery are just some of the devices that can cause injury to the extremities.

AUGERS--Augers can draw in clothing as well as hands and feet. They are fast and efficient but can be extremely dangerous if not properly shielded. Per hour of use, they are the most dangerous machinery on farms. The sharp edge of the spiraling fluting can sever or entangle not only hands and feet but the limbs as well. A proper shield prevents extremities from reaching the fluting.

CORN PICKERS--The most dangerous parts of the corn picker are the snapping rollers. Flights on the gathering chains support the corn stalks and guide them into the head of the machine, where a set of hardened steel rollers rotating toward each other "snap" the ears of corn from the stalk. Most entanglements occur when the operator tries to remove plugged stalks from the snapping rolls with the machine still running. Unfortunately, many a hand has been severed because, once the parts.

The husking bed of the corn picker is another area where hands can become entangled. In this part of the machine, "fingers" and rollers rotate to dehusk the ear, and gloves, fingers, and hands can be pulled into the mechanism. Once the operator is pulled into the machine in either area, it is virtually impossible to become freed without assistance. If he is alone or in a remote location, help may not come for hours.

BALERS--Entanglement of feet in the pickup area of balers has resulted in loss of limbs and life. The scenario most likely to result in tragedy is the operator kicking in loose hay with the machine still running. If the operator can hang on to prevent his entire body from being pulled into the machine, his only hope is that eventually someone will come along to turn it off. Again, this could be hours later.

There are hundreds of other situations where injury to the extremities can occur. Just think of all the chains and sprockets, belts and pulleys, and hand and power tools that are used daily on the farm. Equally serious are injuries to the toes and feet caused by animals. Obviously, a dairy cow weighing one-half to three-quarters of a ton can crush and break bones with one step. Yet many farmers choose to forgo the protection provided by steel-toed shoes.

The victim of a farm injury also must be concerned with other matters in the aftermath of an accident. Will the injury limit his ability to work? If the victim is the principal operator, he must now rely on hired help or family members to perform tasks. Is his health insurance adequate to cover hospital expenses? If the injury involved a hired worker, is his liability insurance adequate to deal with a lawsuit? No one wants to answer these questions, yet the agriculture industry continues to rank first or second in work-related deaths and injuries.

What can you do to prevent death and injury on your farm?

  1. Keep all guards and shields in place. If they must be removed for service or a repair, take the time to put them back on. A couple of minutes could save a couple of fingers.
  2. Wear personal protective equipment, such as steel-toed shoes when handling animals and leather gloves when welding or cutting.
  3. Shut off machinery before attending to service, repair, or plugs. The extra time it takes to shut down and start up the machinery could mean the difference between life and death.
  4. Always be aware of your machinery's capabilities. Flesh and bones are no match for machines that are designed to cut, chop, smash, pulverize, and move plant material.

Make safety a priority on your farm!

Publication #: 28302679

Darcy Demmin, Farm Safety Research, Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, New York State College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cornell

Source: Cornell Cooperative Extension, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
Provider: Ag Information Services -- News & Publications, Penn State
April 27, 1994

Disclaimer and Reproduction Information: Information in NASD does not represent NIOSH policy. Information included in NASD appears by permission of the author and/or copyright holder. More