County plagued by farm accidents

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Dobson: Farm Safety Week a good time to review safe farming practices

By Linda Ireland

On. Sept. 11, emergency service workers were honored around the nation for their service in honor of Patriot Day. The holiday is held in memory of the 2,977 people killed in the 2001 terrorist attacks.

In LaRue County, many local firefighters, EMTs and officers, spent a hot afternoon extricating a worker from a fallen tobacco barn on Mount Sherman Road.

Carmello Mullion, 48, was working in the top tier of the barn about 2:15 p.m., hanging the tobacco sticks as they were handed to him from below. The structure, estimated to be about 60-years-old, collapsed, apparently from the weight of the tobacco.

Four other workers were able to escape, but Mullion was pinned by tier poles across his waist, legs and upper torso, said Buffalo Fire Chief Wendell Perkins.

Perkins and LaRue County EMS Director Mike Cottrell spent about an hour in the barn with Mullion, using several large jacks to lift the heavy supports and crossbeams off him.

About 20 straggly trees held up the right side of the collapsed structure, offering Mullion and his rescuers a bit of protection.

Mullion, covered with dirt and tobacco leaves, was able to sit up (although he was asked quickly to lay back down) and communicate with EMTs as he was transported to a medical helicopter that had landed in the middle of LG&E Road.

He was transported to University Hospital in Louisville. No information is available on his condition.

Brad Hines, who owns the barn, said the crop and barn are insured.

Ag-related accidents plague county
The collapsed barn is the most recent in a series of bizarre farm-related deaths and injuries that have struck LaRue County in the last few weeks.

Aug. 29 – Gary Rock, a dairy farmer in the Roanoke section, lost both legs in a self-propelled chopper used to cut corn stalks. The equipment jammed and Rock attempted to kick out the clog. He was pulled into the cutter. He has undergone several surgeries and will learn to walk with artificial limbs.

Aug. 31 – Valerie Jean Holt, 28, of New Haven, drowned Aug. 31. She was a passenger on a four-wheeler in the Ginseng area near Otter Creek. Several inches of rain fell and created a flash flood in the low-lying area. The four-wheeler was swept away in the rushing waters. The man made it to safety. Holt disappeared under the water, prompting a  search that lasted several hours.

Sept. 3 – John Muir, 56, and Chong Muir, 71, were killed when a car they were working on fell on them. First responders believe the car first fell from a jack or ramp, pinning John Muir underneath. His wife used a second jack to lift the car. When she crawled under it to reach her husband, the car fell a second time. They were asphyxiated.

Farm Safety and Health Week
Dale Dobson, safety administrator for the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, said the accidents have a common denominator: they could have been prevented.

“We’ve had three deaths and one major injury in two weeks,” said Dobson. “I hate to see all this in my home county.”

Dobson started his farm safety campaign in 1994 and was appointed to the state job in 1998 by Agriculture Commissioner Billy Ray Smith.

He’s traveled around the country since then, teaching accident prevention courses to emergency service workers and farmers. Last year, he was the keynote speaker at the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers conference in Kansas City.

“For 20 years, I’ve been going around the state, warning, ‘danger, danger,’” he said.

Since Sept. 15-21 is National Farm Safety and Health Week, he has increased his efforts.

The subject is near-and-dear to his heart. His father, Wayne Dobson, was seriously injured in a farming accident in 1994 when his arms were caught in a PTO shaft.

Dosbson said his efforts have paid off. A study conducted by the University of Kentucky showed that in 1995, there were 50 farm fatalities statewide. By 2012, that number had dropped to 16.

The most recent data for the Department of Labor shows the agricultural sector is still the most dangerous in America, with 21.2 deaths per 100,000 workers. When combining all labor sectors the death rate is 3.2 percent.

If there is one thing he has learned – and continues to preach – it’s, “Don’t become complacent. Even with the reduction of fatalities and injuries, there are serious and preventable accidents each year.

“Sometimes there is no way to know the risk, but usually dealing with equipment, you know to shut it off before working on it – or call 9-11 before trying to deal with (an emergency) yourself,” he said.

“Jacks and mechanical stuff fails. Always have a backup plan.”

Holt and the driver of the four-wheeler “had no idea of the current or its depth” when they drove into the water, he said. They were simply trying to escape a situation that came up quickly.

“They had no clue on the risk. A 5,000-pound tractor or pickup may have handled it, but a 500-pound four-wheeler couldn’t.”

But the outcome of the other accidents could have been positive if the parties involved had put safety first.

“It’s your life, your farm, your choice,” said Dobson. “But people get in a hurry – and forget their families. Dying is easy for the ones who die – it’s hard on the ones who are living. What if they have to find you?”

Safety reminders
Since harvest is upon us, Dobson offers several safety tips for drivers sharing the roadways with large farm equipment:

  • Drivers: Be patient with farmers. They’ll pull over and give you room to pass when they can.
  • Farmers: Be patient with other drivers. Everybody has to share the road.
  • Between 2008 and 2011, there were 120 ATV deaths in Kentucky. That’s the fourth worst rate in the nation. Always wear a helmet and use a seatbelt and rollbar.
  • Pay attention. There were 180 collisions involving tractors and other farm equipment on Kentucky roadways in 2012. Of those collisions, 42 injuries and three fatalities resulted. Forty percent were the result of “inattention.”

“We all need to slow down and share the road,” said Dobson. “Over time we have seen Kentucky’s farming operations grow larger, and now some farmers may need to move equipment 50-60 miles down the road. Instead of moving just one combine down the road, now a farmer might need to move two or three. Some drivers in our hurried-up lifestyles are just impatient behind that kind of backup. I’d hope we could all realize that patience is the key to sharing the road.”