In Recognition of Missing Fingers

Published on: 22:06PM Jun 20, 2010
 The next time you're at a seed corn meeting, do a silent, unobtrusive inventory of missing fingers. It always takes me aback when I notice the number of missing fingers and fingertips in a group of farmers. I start with myself and my "frozen" right thumb joint that took three hours of microsurgery to re-assemble after a customer-assisted mishap with a hydraulic press. 

Considering the risk of farming, it's a miracle every farmer at one of those meetings isn't missing a finger, hand, arm or other extremity. The majority of people in the United States make their living at jobs where the greatest risk they face each day is a paper cut. Farmers spend every day in what is literally an OSHA nightmare.

The list of ways to get hurt or killed in agriculture is endless. Just off the top of my head I can think of a livestock trucker trampled to death while loading cattle, a neighbor crushed by a corn head, a co-worker who lost three fingertips to a chain and sprocket, an uncle who spent time in intensive care after accidentally inhaling fumes from a trash fire that included empty insecticide bags, and a half-dozen other fatal or potentially crippling injuries. How many times have you gone to bed and in reviewing your day's activities suddenly had a shudder run down your spine when you replayed a, "Boy, that was a close one..." incident? 

They say familiarity breeds contempt, and that's very true when it comes to machinery and livestock. We tell ourselves we can safely grease that machine without putting a safety stand under it, or, "That ol' cow hasn't got a mean bone in her body..."  Nine times out of ten nobody gets hurt when we take chances in farming. But judging from my random surveys among groups of farmers, each of us experiences one of those "tenth" times at least once in our life. Maybe more than once.

This isn't one of those perennial pleas and warnings to "Farm Safe." We all know we ignore those warnings because, "It won't happen to me." We couldn't do our jobs if we thought it would happen to us. But according to statistics and informal surveys at farm meetings, each of us during our career in agriculture will spend a certain amount of time in an emergency room. All we can do is try to be safe and minimize the amount of time we spend laying on an examining table, staring at surgical lights and waiting for the x-rays to come back.