Speculating on Safety

10/6/2012 7:00 AM
By Dennis Larison Editor

It seems we never have to wait long to be reminded once again of just how dangerous farming can be.

A couple of weeks ago, it was two Montour County, Pa., boys, 4 and 2, who were found unconscious next to their family’s manure pit. Thankfully, they were quickly pulled to safety and recovered in the hospital.

This week, it’s a report of a 69-year-old farmer in Oregon who was eaten by his own hogs.

These instances stick out because they are unusual. All too common are reports of fatal tractor rollovers, barn fires and silo gas exposure.

It is humanly impossible to anticipate every danger. An unsuspecting mosquito bite or mechanical failure can prove fatal. No amount of precaution can ensure everyone’s safety at all times.

But that doesn’t mean we should adopt a fatalistic attitude toward safety.

It is only prudent, seeing that farmers know how dangerous their livelihood can be, that they develop the habit of pausing during the daily rush to get things done to consider what else they can do to make themselves, their families and visitors even safer.

Part of that is resisting the temptation to take shortcuts when it comes to such things as safety guards and personal protection equipment. Another is to learn and follow all the known precautions when it comes to managing danger centers such as feedlots, manure pits and silos.

One of the reasons journalists report so frequently on accidents, particularly tragic or potentially tragic ones, is that it serves as a reminder to readers of some of the dangers they themselves could encounter.

In a perfect world, all the facts and circumstances would be known each time such a story is reported. Unfortunately, that is rarely the case.

For instance, we almost certainly will never know the exact sequence of events that led to the asphyxiation deaths last spring of a Lancaster County, Pa., manure hauler and two of his sons at a Maryland manure pit.

Similar uncertainties are baffling authorities investigating the death of Oregon hog farmer Terry Vance Garner. They speculate that it was just a “horrific accident,” but they haven’t ruled out the possibility of foul play.

Such speculation, while not proven, can serve as a useful warning to others in similar circumstances.

One clue investigators have is that Garner had told his brother of being bitten by one of his sows last year when he accidentally stepped on one of her piglets.

At the time, Garner intended to destroy the hog, but he later told his brother that he had changed his mind.

Whether that sow was involved in Garner’s ultimate death is pure speculation, but reporting on the possibility still serves as a warning to other farmers who also may have been bitten that ignoring such problems could involve grave peril.

You can never be absolutely safe. But you can learn to become more alert to the dangers around you.

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