According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) “farm accidents and other work-related health problems claim as many as 1300 lives and cause 120,000 injuries a year, most of which are preventable.” (source) On average, 113 youth (under the age of 20) are killed in farm related accidents per year. (source)
By definition an accident is an unfortunate incident that happens unexpectedly and unintentionally, typically resulting in damage or injury. Sometimes, no matter how careful you are, accidents happen. However, often the extent of the injury can be lessened by the things we chose to do before and after an accident.
Homesteads are a little different than large farms in that homesteads usually have children on the property which adds additional safety concerns to the homestead.
Tractor accidents have the highest number of fatalities on a farm or homestead. Almost half of all tractor accident fatalities are a result of the tractor being overturned. Often times, the operator is doing what he’s done many times before without issue. This was the case with a 76 year old dairy farmer who was hauling hay with his tractor down a sloping farm lane. The weight of the hay cause the trailer to go faster and it eventually jackknifed, pinning the man under the tractor. He died before emergency personnel could get there. Having a tractor equipped with ROPS (Roll-over Protective Structure) can limit injury from a roll over.
Tractor accidents are not limited to rollovers. Run overs claim about 60 lives a year. Run overs can be caused by the driver not wearing a seat belt and falling off the tractor and then being run over by the tractor. Or from not turning the tractor off when getting off of it. Or, unfortunately, from not seeing another person and running them over. Most of these accidents can be prevented by wearing seat belts, only having one person on the tractor at a time and making sure that the tractor is turned off when getting on and off. The hardest one to prevent is running another person over because it means that the driver must me aware all around him all the time. It is imperative to teach children to NOT go near a running tractor – even if they think the driver sees them. They should be taught to stay a safe distance away until the tractor has been turned off. Because children are shorter and really fast, accidents like this one in Arizona are too common.
Many farm children like to ride in the back of trailers and trucks and, honestly, it’s all fun until something goes wrong. This was the case with a two year old who was riding in a tractor wagon along with several bags of grain. The load shifted and crushed the toddler. An accident like this can happen in a split second, so it’s really important that if a child is going to ride in a wagon that there is an adult in the wagon with him and nothing else.
Fire is such a great tool for the homestead. It can keep you warm, help clear your fields and even help you cook. But it’s also extremely dangerous when not taken seriously. Especially during the summer months, fire can spread very quickly, not only because of the heat but also because of the dry fields and hay.
Controlled burns are somewhat of a misnomer because it’s very hard to control fire. Winds can shift quickly and it just takes one spark to burn hundreds of acres. If you do need to burn brush it is important to make sure you have enough people and water standing by to keep it under control. It’s also wise to inform you local fire department and obtain any necessary permits.
Spontaneous combustion can happen with hay or grain that is stored before it is completely dry. Just like the bacteria in a compost pile makes it get hot, the bacteria in wet hay or grain can cause the temperatures to increase. If they increase quickly enough, the hay bale or grain pile can catch itself on fire. This can be prevented by making sure that the hay (or grain) has the correct moisture content for storage, for hay that is between 10-15%.
Barns add an extra element of fire danger to a homestead. Not only are they full of dry hay but they are open and open buildings will burn faster than buildings with walls inside. Barns are also usually away from the family residence. Where a smoke detector would inform a family of the possibility of fire in a house, there is usually no person in a barn when a fire starts. So the fire has time to spread before it is even noticed. Barn fires can spread very quickly, in fact, the great Chicago fire of 1871 is often blamed on a cow knocking over a lantern in a barn. That fire burned for two days killing 300 people, leaving another 100,000 people homeless and causing $200 million worth of damage.
Gaited Horses has some great tips on barn safety which includes calling your local fire department and asking them to inspect your barns and adding sheet rock to lofts.
Manure management is part of having a homestead. The more animals you have the more manure you have to deal with. Manure gives off methane, hydrogen sulfide, carbon dioxide and ammonia as it breaks down. Larger homesteads and farms will often have manure pits where manure will go through an anaerobic process to become fertilizer. While manure pits are a great way of dealing with a lot of waste, they are very dangerous to enter. Some farmers enter manure pits to fix things here and there without ever having a problem, then one day the conditions are just right and it becomes lethal. That is what happened to a family of four and a hired hand one summer day in 2007. Even though entering a manure pit is dangerous, the farmer had done it hundreds of times and expected this time to be just like the other. It wasn’t, and it cost him, his wife and children and another man their lives.
Manure can also pose a problem for ground and well water. If not handled properly your water supply can become contaminated. Soil is a great filter for water, however if the soil is overrun with too much manure it will not be able to filter it all. Make sure you don’t have too many animals for your homestead. Also collecting and composting manure instead of letting it sit on the ground will help keep the ground water safe. Reformation Acres has an interesting method of using chickens to help with the cow manure and open pastures for the pigs.
Dehydration, Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke
Homesteading is hard work. For the most part, the work is outside all day long and often alone. This can be a dangerous situation. According to the National Farm Worker Ministry, heat stroke is the leading cause of work related death among farm workers. It’s a shame because of all the things we’ve talked about so far, this one is the most easily prevented.
It’s really important to start the day hydrated and stay hydrated. That means carrying water with you and stopping for breaks. It’s hard sometimes to take a break while you’re on a roll, but the hotter it is the more breaks you should be taking. There are plenty of signs, beyond thirst, that your body will give you that you are headed for danger. Some of those signs are cool skin and chills even though it’s hot outside, headache, nausea, weakness, muscle cramps. If your temperature goes above 104°F, it’s time to head to the doctor’s office.
Cuts, Infections and Bleeding
Even when you are super careful and know what you are doing, cuts can happen. And when they do, there is always the possibility of infection. So, it’s important to have a stocked first aid kit and know how to use each of the things in your kit. It’s also important to know when to seek medical attention for your cut. Our rule of thumb is, when in doubt get it checked out. Sometimes that is at the time of the injury but sometimes it’s days later. Misty Prepper has a great (but graphic) video about what happened when she cut her hand butchering hogs.
Because I’m prone to cutting my hand, a friend gave me a fillet glove as a gift. It works great. If you are prone to cutting your hand or if you’re working with training children to butcher animals or fillet fish, you might consider getting one.
Sometimes the injuries on the homestead are not gushing blood everywhere. Sometime they are internal, as was the case with the girl who was kicked by her horse which ruptured her liver. Unfortunately, even though the girl was immediately rushed to the hospital she died of her injuries. Internal injuries are harder to gauge than ones that are external. Anytime someone is kicked in the torso or head by a large animal, they should be taken to the doctor to be examined for internal injuries.
Accidents happen and it is impossible to prevent all of them. But by being mindful, learning from the experiences of others and using common sense many homestead accidents can either be avoided or at least not lead to death.