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Time-saving shortcuts can lead to accidents
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- The day 35-year-old Jeff Ruth lost his arm, he took a shortcut with a piece of farm machinery one too many times.
"It was just one of those stupid things," Ruth said of the accident that claimed his left arm to just below the elbow. "Instead of taking two seconds to step over there and turn off the PTO (power take off), I reached up there with my hand while it was still running."
Ruth, a house parent at the Mississippi Sheriff's Boys Ranch in Lowndes County, was out baling hay on the property July 8 when some dirt and grass got wadded up under the bottom belt of the hay baler. The stuck dirt and grass was causing the belt to hit another belt, wearing it out.
It had happened before, and Ruth would just grab the wad out and keep baling. He wore gloves, and said he thought this would protect his hands from any danger inside the machine.
"I knew the roller was hot, and I thought I might get burned, and I thought the belt might scratch or nick me," Ruth said. "I never thought about it jerking me up in there."
When the roller caught his gloved left hand, it pulled his arm up to the elbow into the baler. Ruth was stuck there with the machine running for 15 to 20 minutes until a neighbor mowing nearby saw him struggling.
Nearly every bone in his hand was broken, and the heat from the roller burned skin, tissue and muscle to the point it could not be saved. Today, Ruth still works on the farm, but it takes him longer to do the chores.
"I'm one-handed now, so I have to create ways to do everything over," Ruth said.
Looking back, Ruth attributed his accident to impatience, and said people can never be too safe.
Herb Willcutt, safety specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said Ruth's accident in many ways is typical of the accidents reported in the state.
"About four of every five farm accidents involving tractors happen to part-time farmers and rural homeowners," Willcutt said. "Often machinery is older and not safety-equipped, and sometimes poorly maintained."
He said the largest number of farm injuries involved tractors and farm machinery, but other accidents involved animals, electrocution and the farm shop. Willcutt said more farm accidents happen in the fall when harvests are being brought in.
"August through October is a period of high activity in the fields and on the roads, and a high number of accidents occur during those months," Willcutt said.
National Farm Safety & Health Week is an annual awareness week, this year scheduled for Sept. 15 to 21, to call attention to the need for farmers, farm workers and the general public to be extra cautious during the fall harvest months. Its focus this year is on roadway safety as farm machinery shares the roads with other vehicles.
According to the National Safety Council, tractors and other agricultural machinery often can't travel faster than 25 mph, and these vehicles have limited maneuverability. Drivers are urged to remember this, especially when using rural roads.
"We have about 250 accidents a year involving collisions of motor vehicles with farm tractors and machinery," Willcutt said. "The farm machinery is usually larger than the vehicle that hits it and usually those accidents do not result in death to the farmer, but the people in the car often suffer."
Willcutt said about two-thirds of these accidents cause property damage, and one-third result in injuries. In Mississippi, 1 to 2 percent result in a death.