Case study: Anhydrous spill in Northern Illinois

A large-scale anhydrous leak happened in Illinois a few days ago, so I thought I’d use it as a case study. The information available in the original article is pretty limited, but even so I can see a few areas where prevention and response strategies could have been improved, as well as a few areas where people were taking precautions and responding appropriately.

Here is a quick summary of what happened:

-A farmer was pulling anhydrous with a tractor around 4:30 AM. As he drove down the road, a hose sprang a leak

-When firefighters responded, they thought it was just a car fire and weren’t wearing protective equipment or take precautions against chemical exposure initially

-as this was happening, people were driving through the gas and were having difficulty breathing. One driver even went off the road

-the area was heavily populated so people in their homes were also exposed

-In total over 40 people were taken to the hospital by ambulance, and many more drove themselves in.

Some things that went right:

-The driver of the tractor didn’t try to deal with the leak himself, and got out before he was seriously exposed.

-The driver of the tractor was moving anhydrous very early in the morning. Moving equipment, especially something as dangerous as anhydrous, during off-peak hours helps reduce the risk of crashes and the risk of people being exposed to the anhydrous in the event of a leak. This is especially important for heavily populated areas like where this leak happened.

-Someone called the fire department right away. No one tried to stop the leak on their own.

-Once the fire department figured out what was going on, they shut down roads, ordered residents within a 1 mile radius to stay indoors, performed evacuations, and performed wellness checks. In other words, once they figured out what they were dealing with, they took proper precautions to minimize people being exposed.

Some things that could have been improved:

-The fire department didn’t realize this was an anhydrous leak initially. The fire department should have known to look out for anhydrous if they get a call involving farm vehicles this time of year. Getting firefighters into the proper protective equipment right away would have prevented the most serious exposures, and getting the road closed and people inside earlier in the process would have considerably reduced the total number of people exposed.

-Drivers also didn’t realize this was an anhydrous leak and drove into the gas cloud, and at least one driver was going too fast to stop in time to avoid driving into the gas. So many on-road incidents happen because the drivers of passenger vehicles don’t know how to adjust their driving around ag vehicles or what the hazards might be. I’ve already seen a slew of public service announcements for drivers in the aftermath of this incident, but I wish there was more driver training and more drivers getting pulled over and ticketed for illegally passing ag vehicles.

-One thing I’d want to check is if the anhydrous equipment was being inspected regularly and properly, especially since we’re at the beginning of the season. Inspections won’t catch everything, but they go a long way towards preventing leaks.

All in all, it sounds like everyone who was involved is going to be OK, which is impressive considering the size of the leak and that it happened in a busy neighborhood. Still, if firefighters and drivers were more aware of the potential hazards and had been able to start responding to the situation correctly more quickly, the number and severity of exposures could have been dramatically reduced.

Here is a link to the original article:

Avoiding Tractor Fatigue

Here is an article by Living the Country Life about avoiding fatigue during long days on the tractor. With planting season upon us, and especially given that a lot of us got a late start this year, there is a lot of pressure to spend every minute possible putting seed in the ground. No matter what your job is, taking a 10 minute break every few hours helps prevent mistakes. This is admittedly something I’m guilty of too. I spent 5 hours straight grading exams a week or so ago and then had to spend another 1 1/2 hours later in the week double checking some of my work because after about the 3 hour mark I started making mistakes. Tractor driving fatigue can result in less than optimal performance, and can also have serious consequences when it comes to safety. Recharging yourself mentally doesn’t take long. Either short 5 minute breaks every hour or longer 10-15 minute breaks every 2 or 3 hours is enough help clear your head, and can also help prevent back pain, hearing damage, and other issues associated with sitting in a loud vibrating environment for hours on end. You can also think of a tractor break as an opportunity to take care of other kinds of tasks. Make some phone calls, check the weather or markets, have some water or a snack, walk around and check your equipment (spotting problems early can also save time, save money, and improve safety). Taking a break from driving doesn’t mean that you have to sit and do nothing. In fact, doing something that involves getting up and moving around is better than doing nothing during a break.

Here is the link to the original article:

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Product Review: See Her Work Women’s Impact Gloves

Back in January I made a post about a company called See Her Work, which makes protective equipment designed specifically for women. I ended up buying a pair of their Impact work gloves, and now that I’ve had a chance to use them I thought I would write a review. So far I’ve used the gloves to do some farm work over spring break and to build a dollhouse. I’ll start with a general overview then go into more detail about how the gloves performed in each situation.

General overview:
When you buy these gloves online, there is a size chart that you can print out in order to find the correct size. I was right on the cutoff line between the medium and large sizes, and bought a medium. When I first got the gloves, I was actually a bit worried I had bought the wrong size because they were super tight, but fortunately after I had worn them a while they loosened up a bit and now fit perfectly. I think they come a bit smaller with the expectation that they’ll stretch out a bit with use, so if you buy them and they’re too small at first don’t worry because they’ll relax a bit within a few hours of wearing them. They’re super comfortable to wear, and the material breathes enough that you don’t wind up with sweat pooling inside of the gloves. At $35 they’re a bit pricey, but not much more so than if you were to buy men’s gloves of a similar quality, so if you’re going to spend the money on a nice pair of work gloves, a few dollars extra to get ones that actually fit properly isn’t a big deal. However, if you’re spending that much on gloves, you also want them to last. The big unknown for me at this point is whether or not they’ll hold up long enough to make the price worthwhile. After several weeks of being worn fairly regularly for farm work and carpentry work they’re still in perfect shape, but it’ll be a while before I know if they hold together in the long run.

performance during farm work:

I wore these gloves while I was home over spring break and they performed really well on the farm. During break I was working 8-10 hour days doing a pretty standard assortment of early spring farm work: feeding bucket calves, hauling grain and silage buckets, moving hay/straw, driving, cleaning the shop, changing oil, changing tires, moving cattle, etc. The gloves performed well overall. The biggest difference I saw in the farm tasks was for carrying buckets and silage baskets. One issue I (and probably a lot of other female farm workers) encounter is that because my fingers are so much smaller, hauling buckets with wire handles can be uncomfortable to downright painful. If you think about it in terms of physics, it makes sense why this happens. I’m carrying the same amount of weight as anyone else, but my fingers are half the size so the pressure where the wire sits is about double. A persistent problem I’ve had wearing nicer men’s gloves is that , the extra reinforcement in the fingers doesn’t sit in the right spot on my fingers, making it pretty much useless for most carrying tasks. Women’s gardening gloves fit better, but offer almost 0 protection from bucket handles. The women’s impact gloves were a great fix for this! The reinforcement on the fingers made a huge difference for buckets and for hay and straw bales. I was even able to move hay bales 2 at a time because my fingers weren’t being pinched as much, which is something I’ve never been able to do before. Again, the jury is out on whether or not they’ll hold up for a whole baling season, but the improvement in comfort is impressive. It was also much easier to do things like unscrew caps to put hydraulic oil in the tractor or pick up tools in the shop, but I’ll expand on that more in the next section. For some of the other tasks that required less hand work like driving or grinding feed the difference was less noticeable although the fact that they were generally more comfortable was appreciated.

performance building a dollhouse:

The second task where I’ve used the gloves was to make dollhouse as a present for someone based off of one of the plans Stanley Tools published back in the 70’s. This project was sort of the opposite side of the spectrum from farm work. It involved a lot of fine detail work with a jigsaw, tiny nails, and using a drill to make pilot holes for most of the door and window openings. I thought the impact gloves performed exceptionally well for this project. Normally I can’t wear gloves at all when I’m working with tools. The fingers of men’s gloves are too big and fumbly to do anything with and gardening gloves have 0 grip to pick up or hold anything. Being able to wear gloves when I’m using power tools and hammering nails is where I noticed the biggest impact on safety, since I wasn’t able to wear anything to protect my hands before. I actually hit my finger at one point when I was putting in a nail at an awkward angle, but my finger didn’t turn black and blue because the armor on the outside of the gloves protected me. The grip on these gloves is probably the most amazing part. I could pick up nails off the ground! I could control the pressure on the trigger of my jigsaw and do fine detail work while wearing gloves! I could even hold a pencil to draw marking lines so I didn’t have to take my gloves on and off all the time as I was working! The gloves also kept the sawdust and glue off of my hands so at the end of the day getting myself cleaned up was a lot easier than it is normally.

In summary, the gloves have performed very well so far. The jury is still out on how well they will hold up in the long run, which is an important factor to consider given the price, but the bottom line is that having work gloves that fit properly made a big difference in my comfort level doing farm work and in safety when using tools. I’m planning on wearing them for baling season this summer and will post an update on how well they hold up to moving thousands of bales of hay. If that goes well I’m probably going to buy a second pair, and maybe a pair of their leather gloves as well.

Here is the link to the original article I wrote back in January:

And here is one to the See Her Work online store:

Common types of on-road collisions and how to prevent them

Here is a great article from the National Ag Safety Database that summarizes the most common scenarios for on-road collisions between farm equipment and passenger vehicles and ways to avoid them. Most of the advice in the article is for the drivers of passenger vehicles, so I’d like to add a few quick tips for farmers:

  • at the beginning of the season, make sure all slow moving vehicle signs and turn signals are in good working order.
  • Consider adding additional lights/signage to make your vehicle more visible. For implements that might stick out near the center line, adding reflective tape or magnetic flashing lights can help drivers see where the edge of the equipment is
  • Be especially cautious driving after dark or near sunrise/sunset
  • Keep field entrances clear of trees and vegetation as much as possible. This helps make it easier for you to see other vehicles and for them to see you when you are pulling out on to the road
  • Try to avoid busy roads and peak travel times as much as possible.

Click on the link below to see the article by NASD

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Roll over protection and small farms

Iowa Farmer came out with an article about the importance of roll over protective structures on small farms. Tractor rollover is still the leading cause of deaths and severe injuries in agriculture, and numerous studies have shown that using rollover protection plus a seat belt (to keep you inside of the protected zone) is over 99% effective at preventing death and severe injury during a rollover. With many states offering financial and installation assistance, and new designs that allow roll bars to be folded down if being able to enter low-ceiling barns is a concern, it’s easier and more affordable than ever to upgrade older tractors.

Here is the link to the original article;

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Preparing for another bomb cyclone in the Midwest

I’ve been keeping an eye on the weather and it sounds like much of the Midwest might get another bomb cyclone in the next few days. Depending on where you live this could mean snow, freezing rain, or thunderstorms with high winds a lot of precipitation. This couldn’t have come at a worse time since we’re well into calving seasons and wanting to start planning.

The article I’m sharing today is from Beef Magazine, and it gives some tips on being prepared for the bad weather. High on the list is doing as much work in advance as you can to get cows who are about due to calve moved and doing as much feed prep as you are able to. Minimizing the amount of time spent outside when the weather is bad is the best approach, so if you’re in the path of the storm, try to get as much advanced preparation in as you can. For those who are getting snow and ice, also make sure that you have sand and salt ready for walkways. There were a number of reports of people being injured by falling on ice added to the database over the winter and a few minutes of salting/sanding can make a big difference in preventing falls. This might also be a good time to have a check-in plan in place so that something goes wrong out in the field and you’re not able to call for help other people know that there is a problem and come find you sooner rather than later. Make sure at least one other person knows where you will be working and when you expect to check in, and be sure to contact that person if your plan changes. Stay safe out there!

Here is the original article from Beef Magazine:

Planting Safety: Seed coating hazards

Continuing the theme of planting safety, I thought I’d share this article from Farm Progress about some of the hazards of seed coatings. These coatings can drastically improve yields, but some of them, especially some of the insecticides, aren’t good for people.

Click here for the Farm Progress article:

The first step of handling coated seeds safely is to make sure you read the labels of every type of seed before you use it. Even if you have used the same type of seed in previous years, it helps to double check to refresh your memory and to make sure nothing has changed. Different coatings require different levels of protection. Some coatings are safe to handle while others can cause short or long term health problems. Reading and following the instructions on the bag will prevent most problems that can come from handling coated seed.

The main way to avoid exposure to seed coatings is to protect yourself with long sleeves, chemical resistant gloves, and a respirator with an R or P type filter. The type of filter matters because each one contains a different set of layers and chemical treatments designed to neutralize a specific set of chemicals in the environment. Wearing a regular dust mask can improve comfort levels, but it won’t be able to filter out the free floating molecules that aren’t stuck to the larger pieces of dust.

Also, be careful how you deal with clothing that has been worn to handle seed. The dust and residue really sticks in clothing, so if you go from the field to the house you’re bringing all of that in with you and then it sticks around in your house. I have a classmate that studies secondary exposures to agricultural chemicals and unless everyone who handles chemicals changes and washes up every time they come in the house, she is able to detect them everywhere, including cooking surfaces, clothing, furniture, kids’ toys…Ideally if you can rinse your gloves outside before you take them off then have a way to change and take a shower before you go back in the house that’s best, but even changing into a different set of clothes in the mudroom or garage has a huge impact on the amount of residue being dragged in. Also, if you don’t do so already, make sure that outdoor clothes get washed separately from indoor clothes. Washing helps a lot, but short of a professional cleaning it’s impossible to get all of the residue out and anything that gets put in the same load winds up with some of the residue.

The other main method of reducing exposure is equipment maintenance. Well-maintained planters reduce the amount of dust that gets rubbed off of the seeds (which can be good for the seed too) and the less you need to stop and make repairs or adjustments, the less you’re exposed.

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Video:Anhydrous Ammonia Field Safety

To go with our series on spring safety I thought I’d share this video from the Ohio Extension. OSU has one of the best ag safety programs out there and they make some great videos, so if you have time I’d recommend browsing through their Youtube channel. There haven’t been any reports in the database related to anhydrous yet, but I know a few people personally who have had close calls over the years.

With anhydrous, personal protective equipment is very important. Several of the close calls I know of easily could have been serious injury if the person involved hadn’t been wearing the proper protective equipment. Investing in goggles or ideally a full-face mask is a good idea since anhydrous can do a lot of damage to eyes very quickly. (As a side note they’re also amazing if you have bad allergies like I do and need to deal with mold or mow ragweed) I’m including a link to one of the nicer kits I found online. It’s a little bit more expensive, but it looks like it comes with several cartridges and a storage case. The case is important because it keeps dust and debris out of the mask and because less air flowing through the cartridge, the longer it will last. If you get a mask that doesn’t come with a case, definitely store it in some kind of container to help make it last as long as possible!

Here is the respirator link:

Also remember that anhydrous is flammable, explosive, and forms corrosive solutions when mixed with water. Carrying several gallons of water is recommended in case a person comes in contact with the anhydrous, but if a fire happens it’s best to leave the area and call in the professionals due to the explosive potential. This is especially true if a fire happens near a storage area.

If you’d like some additional information, I’m including links to a more detailed safety article and to the CDC’s hazardous materials sheet for anhydrous at the bottom of the page. If you can deal with the super technical writing style, the CDC hazard sheets are really great for learning about the hazards of almost any chemical and how to avoid them. Enjoy the video!

Here is the link to a more detailed article:

And here is the link to the CDC hazardous materials sheet:

More planting safety tips

Here is another good article on planting safety from Farm Progress. This article focuses more on equipment and on the farmer. Doing a thorough check of equipment and replacing damaged parts before planting starts is a good way to prevent problems in the field. Putting together an emergency plan and making sure that your fire extinguishers, first aid kits, and emergency contact numbers are up to date is part of the preparation.

Also, even though planting season always a time crunch, don’t be in so big of a hurry to get started that you’re planting before the field is really ready for it. If you’ve had problems more than once from going into a particular field early in the season, that’s a big indicator to hold off a little longer . One thing that I’ve been finding in the reports coming in to the database is that poor environmental conditions like mud, icy surfaces, debris, and bad lighting are a contributing factor in many ag injuries. It isn’t mentioned much on the academic side of things (which is something I’d like to change) but from the data I’m getting, it seems like a lot of injuries could be prevented if people took more precautions when working in poor environmental conditions.

It’s also important for farmers to take care of themselves during planting season. There have been a half dozen or so studies at this point showing that getting less than 6 hours of sleep per night or sleeping poorly increases the risk for injury. Not eating enough or drinking enough water can also impact performance, as does working while sick. If the workload is more than you can mange without feeling sick or having to cut back on sleep, finding some temporary help for the busy season might be the answer. Even if the second person can’t plant, having someone that can help feed animals or haul supplies can help take some of the pressure off.

Click on the link below to see the article by Farm Progress:

Safety Tips For Spring Corn And Soybean Planting Season

Video: Planting season road and kids safety

Found a video of an interview on the PAFSafetyDays chanel of a news interview that goes over planting safety. This video mostly covers road safety and kids safety. I remember being taught when I was little and taking food and water out to the field to not go near a tractor or piece of equipment until it was off and until the driver saw me and called me over. To this day I haven’t had a close call involving someone not seeing me while equipment is running so in my case at least it was effective training. Not all kids listen that well though, so keeping close supervision until kids are old enough hand have demonstrated themselves to be responsible enough to not break the rules when someone isn’t watching is essential. As for road safety, I’d like to add that making sure your slow moving vehicle signs and lights are in good order is an important step to take before planting starts. I have a lot of classmates who do driving research and time and time again they find that better signage, brighter lights, and more obvious turn signals reduce the chance of getting hit substantially at any time of day.