BOISE — The director of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Boise office said he’s focusing on agricultural workplace safety in Idaho following a rash of on-farm fatalities in Fiscal Year 2014.
In most years, Dave Kearns said Idaho experiences a couple of agricultural fatalities. In the fiscal year that ended last October, however, Kearns said seven of the state’s 14 workplace fatalities involved agricultural workers.
“That kind of raised a red flag for us,” Kearns said. “We’ve always known that agriculture was a lot more of a high hazard industry, but we couldn’t really account for why this was occurring.”
Kearns said there have been a pair of agricultural fatalities in FY 15 — one highway related and another from a heart attack triggered by an electric fence.
Of the FY 14 fatalities, two involved all-terrain vehicle rollovers. Fatalities also occurred when a tractor started and crushed a mechanic making repairs, when a combine pinned a driver against his truck, when a worker was wedged inside of a feed mixer, when a diesel tank exploded while a farm owner was welding it to a trailer and when a potato farm worker was crushed between two trucks.
Tractor rollovers are the major cause of farm fatalities, and many accidents also stem from blind spots on heavy equipment, Kearns said.
Kearns said OSHA and Idaho fund free workplace safety consultations to small businesses, including farms, through a program staffed by Boise State University. Kearns said participants receive no citations but must try to improve any deficiencies. OSHA has also offered agricultural safety training at recent community events. Kearns recently spoke about safety to a couple of agricultural groups and has been invited to grower meetings planned for next winter. Web training is available at nasdonline.org through the National Agricultural Safety Database.
Following a wet 2014 Idaho grain harvest with widespread quality problems, Bill Harp, owner of the Michigan-based Safety and Technical Rescue Association, said this could be a bad summer for grain engulfments. Harp said poor quality grain tends to stick to side walls in storage, prompting growers to enter bins to break it up.
Nationwide, Harp said, there have already been five engulfment fatalities in 2015.
His company has trained farm and grain elevator staff, including in Idaho, in proper procedures for entering grain bins — including wearing lifelines monitored by another person and locking out and tagging augers. The business trains fire departments and emergency responders in engulfment rescues.
Large Idaho agricultural businesses have begun installing more modern equipment to prevent employees from falling on the job, said Heath Mann, a sales associate with SafeRack, LLC. Mann said most farmers still view such equipment as cost prohibitive.
The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries, which oversees farms of all sizes, reported nine agricultural fatalities in 2014, up from five in 2013, and has had two farm fatalities in 2015. Staff offer training and free safety consultations to farms.
Oregon workers’ compensation insurers paid benefits for four agricultural workplace deaths in 2014, three of which involved logging. That’s down from nine approved agricultural death claims — including six in the logging sector — in 2013. Oregon OSHA recently launched an online ATV training program for farm workers at orosha.org/educate/view/ATVSafety.html. The department notes four Oregon workers were killed and seven hospitalized during the past decade from ATV injuries.