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Two farm accidents have tragic results

Two farm tragedies in the space of three days last week were a rare occurrence in Barry County, emergency responders said.

A Vermontville man died and a Hastings man lost his leg in two separate accidents.

Robert Othmer, 72, died around 10 a.m. Thursday, May 16, on Coats Grove Road near M-66.

Michigan State Police said Othmer was working inside a silo at a privately owned farm when he became trapped in the corn. Family members were unable to pull him from the silo.

On Tuesday, May 14, a 21-year-old Hastings man was airlifted to an area hospital and his leg was amputated above the knee following a farm accident at Citizens LLC Elevator in Vermontville at 2:20 p.m.

Vermontville Township Fire Chief Jeff Wetzel said the employee's leg was caught in an auger, and he had to be extricated from the machine.

In 22 years of service, Castleton Maple Grove Nashville Fire Department Assistant Chief Wayne Gould said he could not recall incidents like these.

Over the years, Gould said his department has dealt with fires from silos or hay, but has had few calls for farm accidents like the ones that happened last week.

The state of Michigan averages about 19 deaths each year due to farm activities, according to Craig Anderson, manager of agricultural labor and safety services program with Michigan Farm Bureau.

But the average age of the victims is rising.

Anderson said older farmers have slower reaction times and may have more confidence in their equipment, even if the equipment has become worn over the years.

With the price of produce falling over the past few years, due to international trade variables and tariffs, fewer farmers are buying and updating equipment, Anderson pointed out, which can lead to more accidents.

Agriculture safety can be difficult to predict and regulate, he added, because there are so many more variables in farming than other industries.

More than 200 crops are grown in Michigan and that requires different types of equipment. Weather conditions create challenging variables and, often, farmers work alone.

When a farm death or significant injury occurs, the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration conducts an investigation, the length of which varies greatly, depending on the circumstances.

“Most would say you need to have a heightened sense of awareness, because the risk in many cases is not directly predictable,” Anderson said.

Safety regulations in agriculture also can be hard to create and regulate, because it is an industry yet there are many family farms.

For example, most grain augurs are required to have a guard, he said, but some may not if employees are expected to maintain a distance from the equipment.

Anderson said safety regulations at commercial farms and elevators are typically more detailed than they are at family operations. And misconceptions do exist about the agriculture industry's safety standards, he said, because these safety standards are not taught as a part of traditional education.

His office hosts training seminars and provides information to farmers to increase safety awareness, Anderson noted.

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