The Voice: Winter 2001
Ag department offers course in safety
by Sally Jongsma
It wasn't hard for the agriculture department to make a case for offering a new course in farm orientation and safety. In recent years Dordt's agriculture department has enrolled many students who have grown up in cities or on large farms. Neither have had much experience running farm machines or dealing first-hand with the potentially dangerous technology on today's farms.
Agriculture ranks as the most dangerous occupation_even higher than mining, says Dr. Duane Bajema, who teaches the course. He compares the difference between mining and agriculture accidents to the difference between deaths in plane crashes and deaths in cars. Mining accidents and plane crashes receive a great deal of publicity even though, in general, they cause fewer deaths than car and agriculture accidents do. Since fewer people at a time are affected it seems less dramatic. The total number of farming accidents exceeds those in any other occupation.
A third reason the department wanted to introduce the course was so that all students could carry out class assignments, whether at the Agriculture Stewardship Center or in the greenhouse, safely and knowledgeably. Students learn how to operate equipment and come to understand electrical safety. They also learn about the dangers of pesticides and chemicals used in agriculture. And they learn CPR and basic first aid.
Bajema says that he and the department struggled with whether this course had enough academic rigor to be included in a college curriculum, but came to believe firmly that not only did they need to teach their students how to protect themselves from danger but, as importantly, they needed to help their students develop a sense of responsibility as future employers and leaders in the field of agriculture to promote safety in the industry.I hope this will set the wheels in motion to deal with one of the major problems in agriculture, says Bajema.
Teaching the course the first time confirmed its value for Bajema. He began by asking his students how many of them had experienced or known someone in a farm accident. Almost everyone in the room related an experience that had affected someone close to them. Derick Feikema held up his scarred hand, which he had caught in a wood splitter eight years ago. Fransisca Veldhuis's brother had died when the wet ground under his tractor gave way on a creek bank.
Bajema can list several Dordt agriculture graduates who have died from farming accidents in the past years: David Haverhals, Darwin Cnossen, Sander Verburg. That list grows dramatically if he includes students who have suffered a serious farm accident.
Bajema does not bring up these stories to cause hurt, but to help students understand the depth of the problem and how easily accidents happen. Hearing specifics about people they know or are connected to sets a tone for the course, he feels.
Feikema, who managed to keep his fingers, feels this class is a must for all agriculture students because it teaches patience and general knowledge of how to use machinery in typical farming situations.
Most of the time we know that we should not carry passengers while driving a tractor or skid loader; however, some people still do because they think that if they are careful enough they don't have to follow the rules. What they don't know and what this course taught me is that accidents don't just happen to those who are careless. Accidents can happen to everyone, Feikema says.
Veldhuis, one of the few seniors in the class, also affirms its value. Although it was too late to help her much in her college courses, she says she learned many things that will be helpful to her as she takes over managing her family's dairy next year. I've been around cattle all my life, but I learned things about how they move and what spooks them by watching videos in this course, she says. At 1200 pounds, cattle can be dangerous, she adds. Veldhuis is also grateful for the information she learned about electrical and torch safety as well as CPR training. As a manager of a large dairy she wants to provide a safe environment for the people who work for her.
Part of what the students have learned or been reminded of is simply that farming is so dangerous. Everyone I know just hops on a tractor and starts pushing buttons and pedals without reading the manual, Veldhuis says. She's come to see that taking the time to do so could save a life. Both she and Feikema grew up on farms.
Most high school and college age students feel they are invincible, says Bajema. Statistics confirm the need for more safety awareness for young adults, however. Most accidents happen to sixteen to twenty-five-year-olds or to those over sixty.
In some ways college is already too late to be teaching them this, says Bajema. It should happen in junior high.
One of his students did just that. As part of an assignment Robyn Kelderman prepared a presentation for junior high students in a local school, helping them understand the dangers of and what to be careful for in using lawn mowers. Kelderman planned several activities for the students and enlisted the services of a local lawn mower and tractor repairman. He showed them what happens to a ball_or could happen to a foot_ run over by the mower. He also demonstrated having the pant leg of a scarecrow caught in both a mower and the power train of a tractor. Both gave graphic illustrations of the damage that is inevitable.
Bajema hopes these efforts will not only reduce injuries for those who go through the courses, but even more importantly, make Dordt students leaders for change on their farms and in the farming industry.