Scraped the top of my head this morning so let’s talk about head injuries

After a week of helping several of my friends move into new apartments, I’m back on the farm and was wanting to make another post. I was thinking about what a good topic would be when it hit me, quite literally, in the form of having a minor injury of my own this morning. I’ll start with a quick write up of what happened and the steps I’m taking to stop it from happening again, and then I’ll provide some resources on head injuries.

What happened:

I was doing morning chores, and checked on my sister-in-law’s ducks. It looked like they were getting low on food, so I decided to feed them. The ducks live in an old corn crib, the kind with the wire mesh sides. This is great for the ducks because they have a ton of space where nothing can get at them, but it means that whoever is feeding them has to go in and out through the corn crib door, which is maybe about 4 feet tall. The bottoms of the vertical wires at the top of the door frame stick down about 1/8 of an inch below the horizontal wire. When I went back out, I didn’t duck (pun intended) quite far enough and scraped the top of my head on one of the bits of wire sticking down. Not a serious injury by any means, but since it’s on the top of my head it hurt like crazy and I now have a 3 inch long scrape/bruise that is going to be bugging me for a few days.

Factors leading to the injury:

The design of the door was the main factor that led to the injury. The doorway is too short to get through without stooping, the ends of the vertical wires stick out in such a way that they can easily scratch someone, and there isn’t anything to warn you that the sharp bits are there. I’ll also cite worker inexperience since I rarely feed the ducks. Also, talking with other people it seems like everyone has scraped themselves on those wires at some point so this is also a case where an ongoing issue hasn’t been addressed and multiple people have experienced the same injury.

Corrective measures:

To make the hazard easier to see, and to dull the sharp edges I wrapped the whole top of the doorway in neon pink tape. Hopefully this will mean that the scratch I got this morning will be the last time anyone gets hurt by the ends of the wires. Also, it’s a super cheap solution that doesn’t interfere with how the door closes. Prevention doesn’t always have to be expensive or complicated!

Image result for neon pink duct tape

Additionally I’d like to share a few articles on assessing and treating head injuries that I was looking at this morning. Fortunately I didn’t have any symptoms of a serious injury, but even so it felt a lot worse than it was because there are so many nerve endings in your scalp.

Here is the article from Colorado Children’s Hospital that I looked up earlier that seemed the most helpful. It’s about head injuries in children, but the same information works for adults too. I like how they clearly spell out when to call 911, when to go to urgent care, when to see a doctor non-urgently , and when to treat at home.

Here is another article from WebMd that covers a lot of the same information:

Case Study: Farmer rescued from downed powered lines

A farmer in Michigan was rescued unharmed after power lines fell on his tractor. This is a great example of a near-miss where the farmer could have been killed or seriously injured but got out unharmed because he responded correctly to the situation, so I thought I’d write up a quick overview.

What happened: A farmer was discing his field and hit a power pole. The power lines dropped on top of his tractor and equipment. The farmer called 911 from his tractor and first responders shut off the power so that he could get out safely. A fairly large area briefly lost power but no one was harmed.

What went wrong: Basically the only thing that went wrong in this situation was the farmer hitting the power pole. Obviously avoiding obstacles in the field is important and if the farmer had avoided the pole none of this would have been necessary, but after that point their response to the situation was perfect and no one was hurt.

The hazards involved:Live electrical wires are extremely dangerous, and can cause death and severe injury if someone touches them while the power is flowing. Additionally, because the tractor and equipment are made of metal, the equipment itself may have been carrying a charge depending on where the cables landed.

What went right: Most importantly, the farmer didn’t try to get out of the tractor or touch the door handle or the outside of the tractor. They called 911 and waited for the power company to turn off the power so that they could get out safely. Carrying a cell phone with them was critical in this case because they were able to get help quickly and didn’t risk either leaving the tractor themselves or someone finding them and getting electrocuted in the process of getting out. Emergency services did a great job handling this too. They got the power shut off and let the people whose power got shut off for a while know what was happening. They didn’t send any of their people in until they were sure the power was off.

The bottom line: Power lines and electricity in general is very dangerous and because you can’t see it, it’s easy to accidentally touch something that is live and get shocked. If you are ever in a situation where there are downed power lines don’t touch them, call 911, and if you’re in a vehicle stay inside until you get the all-clear. This situation could have gone from equipment damage to someone being severely injured or killed very easily, but the way that the farmer and emergency services responded to the situation prevented a bad situation from getting much worse.

Here is the original story from AgDaily:

Image result for danger electrical hazard

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:

Case Study: Lone Worker Dies after Fall from ATV

oday I’d like to present a case study involving a lone worker and a fall from an ATV.  The case comes from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), an independent organization that promotes worker safety in the United Kingdom. Their website includes a few dozen agricultural injury case studies (click here to see their ag case studies).  I chose this case to take a look at ATV safety and some of the dangers of working alone on the farm.

The Situation: A 53 year old gamekeeper severely injured his pelvis by falling from an ATV. He survived the initial injury, but was unable to call for help. It took 52 hours for someone to notice that he was missing, and he was found dead 200 yards from the scene of the initial injury.(click here to see original case description)

Risks Involved:  ATV Operation, working alone, lack of communication device/check in plan.

Risk Mitigation Strategies:  There are two main issues involved here, which are the risks of operating an ATV and the risks of working alone.  Since this was a fatal case, they weren’t able to provide much of a description of what caused the initial injury. There are a lot of things that can contribute to ATV injuries: terrain, excessive speed, improper loading, mechanical issues, training issues etc. I found an article by OSHA that summarizes some of the main hazards of ATV use and how to avoid them. Click here to see it.

The other, and in this case possibly the greater issue is that he was working alone in an isolated area, had no way to call for help, and there was no check in plan to prompt a search when he didn’t come back. This incident took place in 2004, so cellphones weren’t as universal as they are now.  However having a cell phone doesn’t guarantee you’ll be able to call for help. Phone issues like low battery or poor signal can prevent you from making a call and if your phone breaks or if you’re unconscious as a result of the incident you won’t be able to call either.  That’s why the most important thing you can do is to avoid working alone whenever possible, and if you do work alone, let someone know where you’ll be and what time you expect to be back.  There are also a quite a few smartphone apps that can help protect lone workers. The systems use GPS to keep track of worker locations and can set up an emergency call button on the users’ phones. Some of them can also be set up to prompt users to check in by pushing a button on their phone at certain times, and call for help if the button isn’t pushed. Click here to see the top 10 lone worker apps.

The bottom line:  If you own an ATV, make sure that you and anyone else who drives it knows and follows all safety procedures. Try to avoid working alone as much as possible.  If you do work alone, let someone know where you will be and when you expect to be back. Cell phones can be a useful tool when working alone, but they can fail so make sure they’re not your only line of protection.

Case Study from the UK: Fall from a Loader Bucket

Today I’d like to present a case study involving a fall from a loader bucket.  The case comes from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), an independent organization that promotes worker safety in the United Kingdom. Their website includes a few dozen agricultural injury case studies (click here to see their ag case studies).  I chose to take a closer look at the case involving a fall from a loader bucket because problems with overhead piping, heating, and lighting systems seem to be more common in winter, and because I’ve seen at least one near-fall in a similar situation.

The Situation: A farmer was standing in the bucket of a loader tractor performing an overhead pipe repair. The bucket of the loader was about 6 1/2 feet in the air. The pipe slipped and fell on one of the loader’s levers, tipping the bucket. The farmer fell and hit his head on a pallet, resulting in head injuries. (click here to see original case)

Risks Involved:  Elevated workspace, improper work platform,  no guards or railings on work platform, controls of platform underneath work area,

Risk Mitigation Strategies:  The key issue here is that a loader bucket isn’t a good work platform.  It lacks railings, the surface is often slick and slanted, the controls are at a distance from the person in the bucket, and the controls are vulnerable to falling objects as seen in this case.  There are a variety of work platforms that would have been appropriate for this situation, especially since the height requirement was only about 6 feet.  The original analysis of the case study recommends a platform fitted to a vertical mast forklift or on a boom (like a cherry picker) but  I think a portable scaffold would work just as well and would be much less expensive.  Depending on the tools and space needed to fix the pipe, a warehouse ladder/rolling staircase or traditional ladder might also have worked.   The key is to choose a work platform with a clean level working surface that has enough space for you and your tools,  and making sure that the platform can’t move while you are working.  A platform with a railing is ideal because even if a slip or fall occurs, it is less likely that you will fall to a lower level.

The bottom line: Elevated work is a regular occurrence on the farm.  Adjustable height rolling scaffolds, rolling staircases, and safer ladders have come down in price (many are under $200) and a wide variety of designs are available to suit different needs. The materials have improved considerably too, so many of the new designs are lighter, stronger, and longer-lasting than the wooden versions you may be familiar with. Thinking about the kinds of elevated work you do and investing in an elevated work platform that fits your needs could save you from having to deal with an injury later on.