ELDERTON — Figures from Penn State Extension show 141 people died in farming-related accidents in Pennsylvania from 2010 to 2014, a number that changed little from the previous five years, and reflecting nearly the same rate of deaths in agriculture, one of the top industries in Pennsylvania.
With a goal of giving accident victims a better chance to survive accidents involving tractors and machinery, the Extension Service hosted a farm emergency response workshop over the weekend at the Elderton fire station.
More than two dozen volunteer firefighters and paramedics from Indiana and Armstrong counties took part in classroom-style instruction and hands-on rescue drills on the fire department grounds.
Stephen Brown, an Ag Safety and Health Extension Assistant from University Park, conducted the 16-hour training program. It was organized and funded by the Indiana County and Armstrong County farm bureaus.
“Tractors and machinery are the No. 1 cause of fatalities on farms,” Brown said. “If you go on any farm, there’s always some kind of powered machinery or tractor on that farm.
“The kind of machinery involved varies across the board, everything from corn pickers — you name it.”
The weekend workshops focused on rescuing farm workers trapped by overturned tractors and caught in machinery such as flail choppers, TMR feed mixers, forage wagons and small square balers.
Tractors and machinery are involved in nearly 50 percent of farm deaths and disabling injuries, according to Penn State’s workshop description.
The farm emergency management program was designed to teach principles that rescuers can apply to the most typical farm machines, and emphasized teamwork to provide the best possible care for patients and property involved in farming mishaps.
Statistics on farming accidents and fatalities are limited because farms are not under the jurisdiction of Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), so Penn State gathers its numbers from a variety of sources including county coroners, rural emergency medical service providers, police reports and newspapers.
Still, the stats gathered since Penn State’s last five-year summary bear out nearly the same death rates as the past decade.
“In 2016, there were a total of 27 farm fatalities that were reported to us,” Brown said. “The number is likely much higher; we don’t get reports from Amish or a lot of Mennonite communities. Of those 27, 15 were directly related to tractors and machinery.”
Mortality rates from machinery accidents have the agriculture community worried. Fewer victims are rescued with survivable injuries.
Most people who survive farm accidents are hurt by animals, Brown said.
“The leading causes of non-fatal injuries are animal bites, kicks, things like that,” he said.
Suffocations in grain bins make up a small percent of the total, but also have prompted prevention efforts across the country. Nationwide Insurance Co. is a notable investor in reducing grain bin fatalities by teaming with the National Education Center for Agriculture Safety to award grain bin rescue tube apparatus to fire departments across the U.S.
The Marion Center Volunteer Fire Department received one of 16 rescue tube systems awarded by Nationwide in 2017.
Brown said Penn State Extension is polling area first responders for their interest in a grain bin rescue class in the future.
NOTE: This article updated at 10 p.m. to correctly identify the event sponsors.