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Fires, dangerous accidents reported as busy harvest season continues

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It's harvest season, which puts Minnesota farmers at an increased risk of injury or even death as they spend the majority of their time in the field.

Stories about accidents on farms make headlines every fall, and this past week has been no different. Fires, truck accidents and other incidents have been reported as farmers across the region rush to harvest their bumper crops.

Recent incidents in the region

A driver of a grain truck had to be extricated from the vehicle after it crashed into a drainage ditch and rolled over Monday morning in Winona County, the Rochester Post Bulletin reports. The man was seriously injured in the crash, the Winona Daily News notes.

And last week, two people were killed in a head-on collision with a beet truck in Clay County, Minnesota.

Bergen Johnson of Milan was harvesting corn Sunday when the front of his combine started on fire, WCCO reports. He had to quickly back his combine away from the crop to prevent it from catching fire, before safely getting out of the machine.

He wasn't injured, and he's thankful for his neighbors who came to his aid, the news station says.

Dry conditions increase the chance for a field fire during harvest season – dry plant material and grain dust are combustible, and if they come in contact with hot equipment or engine sparks, a fire could start, Ohio's Country Journal reported.

That, combined with some wind, could cause fires to spread or make them difficult to contain, the publication noted.

Dry, windy conditions Monday hampered firefighting efforts at a grain bin in North Dakota, a news release says. It's not clear what started the fire at Hubbard Feeds in Grandin, but the building is said to be a total loss.

Farming dangers

The agriculture, fishing and forestry industry (occupations that farm and harvest crops, animals, fish or timber) typically has the highest number of worker deaths across all industries, averaging roughly 480 worker deaths per year, the Agricultural Safety and Health Council of America notes.

Tractor rollovers are the most fatal of all farm accidents in the United States, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) says, with incidents involving tractors and other farm machinery accounting for about half of all farm-related fatalities.

Farming fatalities on the rise in MN

Fatalities in the agriculture, fishing and forestry industry dropped 13 percent to 225 fatalities nationwide in 2013, with 123 agricultural worker deaths in 2013 (down from 152 the year before), the Bureau of Labor Statistics says.

In Minnesota, there were 15 fatalities in the agriculture-fishing-forestry sector in 2013, down from 21 in 2012, the Bureau of Labor Statistics noted.

But farming deaths are actually on the rise in Minnesota. From 2003-2013, there were 210 farm-related deaths, up 30 percent compared to the previous decade, the Star Tribune says.

The newspaper recently published a four-part series on the dangers of farming called "Tragic Harvest", which found at least two-thirds of the 210 farm-related deaths in the past decade could be linked to practices that violate federal workplace safety rules.

Small farms exempt from regulations

Many farms in Minnesota and other states aren't subject to OSHA regulations because of their small size.

Purdue University found approximately 70 percent of all documented grain bin entrapments – another risk to farmers during harvest season – happened on a work site that were exempt from OSHA regulations.

Farmers are also not required to obtain a commercial driver's license to drive large trucks, like commercial truck drivers have to. This may be putting farmers and other motorists at risk, the Grand Forks Herald reported.

In Minnesota, a driver is not required to obtain a commercial driver's license (the license semi-truck drivers have) to operate a farm truck if the driver meets certain conditions, including: if they are an employee of the farm; using the truck to transport agriculture products, supplies or machinery to or from a farm; or if the truck is used within 150 miles of the farm, the Minnesota Department of Transportation says.

Last year, there was one traffic fatality involving farm equipment, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety says.

The University of Minnesota Extension says most farm-related accidents can be prevented if appropriate safety measures are taken. The organization reminds farmers – who are often in a rush to finish the harvest before winter – to take their time and make sure they're doing work the safest way possible.

For information on farm-related deaths in Minnesota and around the country, click here and here.

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