Mid-Missouri farmer Brian Flatt had climbed up the ladders of grain bins on his farm with a screwdriver or grease gun in hand thousands of times.
But this time was different. While he waited for a load of corn to empty one mid-September day, he decided to check out a faulty electric blower on a grain bin.
With a screwdriver in his pocket and voltage tester in hand, he climbed the grain bin’s ladder. He lost his grip and fell about 20-25 feet to the ground.
Flatt called his dad, who was combining in a nearby field. His mother, who was mowing the yard nearby, called 911.
Before an ambulance arrived, Flatt removed his work boot and saw a bone poking through his sock. He was hurt, but alive. “I’m looking up and saying, ‘Thank you, God. I’m very lucky.’” But in the same breath, he was saying, “No, no, no, God. I can’t be hurt right now.”
Flatt will soon undergo a second surgery at University Hospital in Columbia and faces up to 12 weeks of recuperation, all in the midst of his favorite time of the year—harvest. He hopes his recuperation will be less. At 43, Flatt runs several miles a couple of times a week and stays in shape.
Flatt wants to remind other farmers to be careful this harvest season. He plans to follow his own advice by placing a backpack to carry tools at each grain storage area on his farm. “I’m not going to go up a ladder again without two free hands,” he says.
Flatt’s sister, Wendy Flatt, is the University of Missouri Extension livestock specialist in Howard County. She had her own near miss with a grain bin when she was a preschooler. She climbed to the top of the grain bin and was scared to get down. Her father rescued her. “To this day, I’m scared of heights,” she says.
She is thankful her brother’s injuries weren’t fatal and may serve as a reminder to others to be careful. “When farmers are harvesting, they have a million things going on in their minds,” she says. “The last thing they think about is staying safe. Usually they have done mundane things like climbing up the side of a grain bin without a second thought, or unclogged a combine so they can keep harvesting.”
“All it takes is one little slip to change an entire course of a life, so please take the extra minute to stay safe, especially around grain bins.”
MU Extension state safety and health specialist Karen Funkenbusch agrees. “Slips and falls are the most common types of injuries on a farm. They are frequent and rank second only to motor vehicle accidents.”
Meanwhile friends, neighbors and local trucking companies are pulling together to help Flatt’s father harvest the family’s 5,200 acres of land in Boone, Audrain and Monroe counties. He is the third generation to farm his family’s land.
This harvest, he will miss the time of year when farmers bring in the fruits of their labor. “It’s the most fun time of the year,” he says, “and I’m missing it all.”
But even worse, he knows his absence from the field increases the workload for friends and family during one of the farm’s busiest times. “By far the hardest part of this is the workload I've dumped on my family and our help,” he says.
For more information from MU Extension about farm safety, go to http://extension.missouri.edu.
For information about National Farm Safety & Health Week, Sept. 20-26, visit the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety website at http://www.necasag.org.