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Shortcuts in Safety? Not on the farm!

By Nicole Hornett  (guest blogger)

Most of us are familiar with Murphy’s law: the notorious ‘law’ of nature concluding anything that can go wrong will go wrong.

Following in Murphy’s philosophical footsteps, Professor Charles Issawi drafted up some additional ‘laws’.  One of his observations really resonated with me in terms of safety on the farm:

“A shortcut is the longest distance between two points.

What does Mr. Issawi mean by this?  I decided to look at three ways agricultural workers might take a shortcut to decide if the time savings outweigh the safety risks.

Shortcut #1: Leaving the combine running while clearing a clogged header.

Ensure machinery is turned off and the key is in your pocket before clearing debris. Rotating machinery is designed to grab and pull.  Credit: Alberta Farm Safety Program; Government of Alberta

Ensure machinery is turned off and the key is in your pocket before clearing debris. Rotating machinery is designed to grab and pull. Credit: Alberta Farm Safety Program; Government of Alberta.

Concern:  Once the blockage is cleared, the machine could re-engage even if your hands and arms are still inside.

Best Plan:  Shut off the equipment, set the brake and put the key in your pocket before reaching in.

Shortcut #2: Exiting by jumping down off machinery instead of properly using the steps or ladder.

A worker climbs down the steps in a controlled fashion.  Wearing appropriate footwear and keeping the steps clear is also essential to avoiding slips and falls from machinery.  Credit: Alberta Farm Safety Program; Government of Alberta.

A worker climbs down the steps in a controlled fashion. Wearing appropriate footwear and keeping the steps clear is also essential to avoiding slips and falls from machinery. Credit: Alberta Farm Safety Program; Government of Alberta.

Concern:  Shoe laces, clothing or jewellery could get stuck, or you could slip as you push away from the machinery, resulting in excruciatingly painful contact with the metal steps or ground.

Best Plan:  Descend using the steps and handrails in a controlled fashion.  The exception to this is in an emergency, like contacting an overhead power line, when you need to jump to exit due to fire.

Shortcut #3: Stepping over the Power Take Off (PTO) shaft instead of walking around the equipment.

A power take off (PTO) shaft (yellow) connects the tractor to a trailed implement.   A PTO transfers mechanical power from a tractor to farm machinery, such as a mower, manure spreader or grain auger.  Credit: Canadian Agricultural Safety Association; used with permission.

A power take off (PTO) shaft (yellow) connects the tractor to a trailed implement. A PTO transfers mechanical power from a tractor to farm machinery, such as a mower, manure spreader or grain auger. Credit: Canadian Agricultural Safety Association; used with permission.

Concern: A PTO shaft rotates very quickly!  An average PTO shaft can spin between 9 and 16 times per second.  Clothing, hair, jewellery, shoelaces or hoodie strings can quickly become entangled resulting in severe injury or death.

Best Plan:  Pocket the key and walk around the entire unit.  Enjoy the time to stretch your body and get some fresh air! Have a good look around and under the vehicle and implement as you walk especially to observe for anything that may have changed since you parked.

Each of these machinery “shortcuts” may only save about 30-60 seconds, yet come with huge risks to personal safety!  An injury could result in days, weeks, months or even years of downtime.  If keeping safe on the job simply requires rethinking shortcuts, consider sparing the 30-60 seconds required.

Now I see what Professor Issawi was on to!

 


Nicole Hornett is a farm safety coordinator with Alberta Agriculture. She is also on the planning committee for the Young Farm Worker Safety Training Day (via Safe Communities of Central Alberta).

Issawi Sources

Initial quote source: “How Stuff Works” http://people.howstuffworks.com/murphys-law2.htm

Referenced at: Issawi’s Laws of Social Motion (book) http://www.amazon.com/books/dp/0878500731

About Issawi: http://cosmos.ucc.ie/cs1064/jabowen/IPSC/php/authors.php?auid=11146 or Wikipedia…

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