March 9, 2000 | By: Haven Miller

On a recent Tuesday evening in Lexington, students filled a UK classroom to capacity to hear about practicing grain bin safety, reducing hearing loss, and avoiding explosions caused by grain dust. It was not a one-time, special event – the students who packed the room meet regularly as members of UK's agricultural safety class.

Course instructor Larry Piercy, a farm safety specialist, said he's not surprised his class is a popular one in the UK College of Agriculture. Nationwide, and in Kentucky, interest in agricultural safety is increasing.

"Certainly it's getting more media attention now, and it's something people have finally become more conscious of," said Piercy. "Of course, agriculture is one of the most hazardous professions, and in Kentucky the death rate is two or three times greater than the national rate."

According to the UK Kentucky Injury Prevention & Research Center, there were 179 Kentucky farm fatalities during the five-year period of 1994-1998. That's an average of almost 36 farming deaths per year. Of these, the largest single source was 104 tractor-related deaths, including 71 from tractor overturns.

"I don't think people realize how big the numbers are," said Casey Mulberry, a class member and junior majoring in agricultural education. Mulberry was raised on a farm in Scott County, and said he can relate to many of the class discussions.

"I know that on the farm it's often hard to get things done, and sometimes we're in a hurry. That's when it's easy to forget about safety."

According to class member Patrick Robinson, also an ag education junior, people think farm injuries always happen to someone else.

"I think people say ‘well, it happened to the guy down the road, but not to me because I practice safety,' but sometimes these are the very people who are not being safe," said Robinson.

The safety class has enrolled not only undergraduates, but also Cooperative Extension Agents who want to make their counties safer places for adults and children.

"In my county we've got a lot of steep, sloping farmland with greater potential for tractor overturns, so a class like this gives me more ideas for Extension programs," said Paul Sizemore, Owsley County Extension Agent for Agriculture and Natural Resources. "I think as Agents we need to encourage safety topics to be piggy-backed on to different kinds of programs throughout our county."

"I work with youth, and a lot of them live on farms with their families," said Kristy Jury, Gallatin County Extension Agent for 4-H Youth Development. "This class gives me a background on safety so that I can conduct programs for 4-Hers, and hopefully this will have an impact on them so they will pass the information on to their own children when they get older."

"I plan on being either a teacher or Extension agent," said Robinson, "and this class will help me spread the word to the next generation about the importance of being safe on the farm, or in the home, or anywhere we live or work."

One student, who lost his brother in a tractor overturn a few years ago, said the price of not practicing safety can be very high.

"People don't know how it can impact a family -- I think about it every time I go out in the field, or every time I look at a piece of new farm equipment, " he said. "This class has made me more aware of the importance of rollover protection. It's not that expensive, and it's really worth it."


Larry Piercy 606-257-3000