SIKESTON -- Farmers and motorists are reminded to take extra safety precautions this fall as harvest season is in full swing.
"There's no doubt that traveling in tractors and with equipment -- especially in the fall -- creates a dangerous situation," said Evan Ayers, agricultural engineering specialist for the Stoddard County Extension Office.
Agriculture ranks as one of the most dangerous industries in the United States. More than 700 farm-related deaths and 120,000 disabling injuries are reported each year.
Ayers thinks farmers are in a different situation now than they were 30 or 40 years ago. Tractors back then didn't have the mass that they do today, he said.
"Today farmers are in commercial operations," Ayers said. "Farmers operate with very large equipment. The maintenance and management of the equipment requires complex systems."
According to the Missouri Department of Agriculture, most of the fatalities stem from tractors rolling or running over someone. Each year, hundreds of fatal injuries from tractor overturns occur nationwide because tractors aren't equipped with rollover protective structures, Missouri Agriculture Director Lowell Mohler said in a recent statement.
Aufdenburg Equipment Co. Service Manager Larry Lott said most all of the new tractors of all manufacturers come installed with rollover protection these days. If tractors don't have this protection, such as the older ones, kits may be purchased to it to the tractors, although Lott noted not too many farmers purchase the kits.
"When moving equipment, motorists need to be careful, but farmers need to be flagged in the front and the back," warned Ayers, who recently lost a close relative in a tractor-related accident.
Cindy Faulkner and her husband Rick, of R & C Farms in New Madrid, have farmed together for over 20 years. Faulkner said she and her husband have always made safety a priority.
"We use flashing lights on all of our tractors," Faulkner said. "We also keep our slow moving vehicle signs in good condition so they can be seen."
One of the biggest things farmers should keep in mind when transporting farm equipment is communication. The Faulkners use a radio/walkie-talkie system when transporting equipment. With radios, they can let one another know ahead of time what to look out for.
"We just try to stay in close contact," Faulkner said. "We move in pairs because even with mirrors it's difficult to see what's around you."
Most of the Faulkners' equipment is fairly new so they have rollover protection equipment on them, Faulkner said. One of their older, small utility tractors doesn't have the protection system, but Faulkner added that it's not used in fields.
Safety officials often warn farmers to wear their seat belts -- even if they have rollover protection on their tractors. Like the majority of area farmers, Faulkner doesn't think wearing a seat belt while driving a tractor is practical. "You have to watch what you're doing," Faulkner explained. "If you sit back in that seat, then you're not doing your job. You can get hurt or hurt others if you're not watching your surroundings."
The state's agriculture department states by learning first aid and having emergency phone numbers available, farmers can also prepare for farming hazards.
Another suggestion by the state is for farmers to get plenty of rest during harvest season. Faulkner is the first one to admit that's difficult to do when work needs to get done.
"It's not a 9 to 5 job, but if you can't get enough sleep, at least take a few minutes, get off the equipment and walk around," Faulkner recommended.
For more information about farm safety, visit the National Safety Council Web site at www.nsc.org/farmsafe.htm.