Alabama safety specialist: Hasten slowly this planting season

• Farm accidents typically occur when farmers are pressed for time, forced to make too many decisions at once — problems often compounded by fatigue.

An Alabama farm safety expert says his advice for spring planting is best expressed in the old classical adage: Hasten slowly.

Actually, what applies in the spring counts all through the year, says Jesse LaPrade, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System farm safety specialist. Instead of responding to issues on the fly, farmers should instead flesh out an agenda — one that not only anticipates all the demands over the next few months, but that also paces out their farm chores — in other words, a plan that better ensures they hasten slowly, he says.

Farm accidents typically occur when farmers are pressed for time, forced to make too many decisions at once — problems often compounded by fatigue.

“If you go back and look at the history of farm-related accidents, you will see the underlying causes almost always involved farmers in a hurry,” he says.

All farmers face crunch times, but the end goal should be a plan that renders those crunch times as soft and predictable as possible.

“As simple as this sounds, farmers need to flesh out an agenda,” LaPrade says. “They still need to make their agenda items for each day and week. They need to plan things ahead and to be flexible too, especially given the prevailing weather patterns this year, which have been more erratic than previous years.”

As LaPrade reminds farmers season after season, the biggest wildcard often centers around the farm accessory that is considered the most useful: the tractor, which is associated with more fatalities than any other piece of equipment.

More than a dozen accidents have centered around tractors that won’t crank.

“When the switch key doesn’t work, farmers know good and well they can short the starter connection, which is often what they resort to instead of installing another switch.”

The result is sometimes catastrophic.

“They typically park them in gear so they won’t roll off, which means they often don’t have a chance to break clear when the tractor cranks,” LaPrade says.

Remote starters available

As an added safeguard, LaPrade says farmers should consider buying a remote starter, which is available at any automotive supply store.

“The devices are equipped with wires on each side with clamps that can be attached to the terminals of the defective starters so that if it’s in gear, there is no risk of rollover,” he says.

“These devices cost less than $20 dollars, and given they are potential lifesavers, they’re well worth the investment.”

Another tractor-related risk involves rollover, which is a special concern in horticultural operations and among small landowners. These operations sometimes use tractors that are smaller, older and not equipped with what LaPrade stresses should be one of the mainstays in any farming operation: rollover protection structures, more commonly known as ROPS.


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With fruit and vegetable production becoming a more lucrative option for many growers, LaPrade says these types of risks could increase within the next few years as many aspiring growers, particularly novices, buy smaller, older tractors.

Retrofit ROPs can be purchased for virtually any tractor, says LaPrade, who has developed a section on the Alabama Cooperative Extension System Farm Safety website that provides extensive information about selecting and purchasing retrofit ROPS.

He cautions that ROPS, should be installed by the dealer. Seatbelts are an integral part of this safety feature and should be worn at all times, LaPrade adds.

However a tractor rolls, ROPS ensure that you are within the zone of protection, providing the seatbelt is tightly attached, he says.

During this busy time of year, LaPrade says motorists have a role to play too in farm safety.

Most farmland is no longer consolidated, which means that farmers sometimes have to travel long distances in their tractors to complete planting. Trouble often follows when impatient motorists encounter this slow-moving equipment.

These types of accidents, which often end in fatalities, have increased in recent years, LaPrade says.

For more information about farm safety, visit the ACES Farm Safety site:

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