Farmers have a long history of telling each other stories about what works and doesn’t work on their farms, with old-timers sometimes leaning on line fences while exchanging those stories with neighbors. Some farm-safety groups are hoping to tap into that legacy as part of farm-accident prevention programs.
The Marshfield-based National Farm Medicine Center and three other Upper Midwest farm-safety groups have organized the “Telling a Story Project: Tell a Story, Save a Life” project to prompt farmers to share their farm-accident stories. The program is seen as an effective means of getting farmers to practice what they likely know where farm safety is concerned, said NFMC communications director Scott Heiberger, who’s among its organizers.
“People generally know how to stay safe,” Heiberger said. “Farmers generally know how to stay safe; a lot of the research has been done, so the researchers know how to stay safe, but there’s oftentimes a disconnect between knowing what’s safe and actually changing behavior and then carrying it out.”
As farmers work – even being aware of safety issues, they might not carry through with safe operations every time them do that work, he said. However, he added, the story-telling project’s organizers believe farmers hearing farmers’ stories could help keep safety more at the front of the workers’ minds.
Heiberger said farmers hearing those other farmers’ stories will help bridge what he sees as a credibility gap. He also said there are plenty of statistics and research available about farm safety, but that on-farm stories simply are more real than those numbers.
The stories are being shared in writing, in recordings and as photo-vignettes.
The program is funded by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health. The NFMC is working with the Central States Center for Agricultural Safety and Health, the Great Plains Center for Agricultural Health and the Upper Midwest Agricultural Health Center. It started in June, and Heiberger said it’s starting to get more attention.
The organizers say farmers aren’t expected to write or record their own stories, but that’s an option. The organizers are providing writers and recorders to gather the stories, as needed.
Heiberger said people with stories should get in touch with him or other organizers. Help is available to assist in developing the stories.
“The stories are the main thing,” he said. “If anyone has anything they think others would benefit from, I would encourage them to get ahold of me.”
There are no limits in how many stories – or the types of stories – that will be used in the project.
“We’re not going to worry, at this point, about having all areas of injuries covered,” Heiberger said.
Some of the stories might be surprising to people, he said. He used as an example a hydrogen sulfide-related accident that happened on one farm; another he cited was involved an Iowa hog farmer who was washing the floor of his hog facility, and the wash-water broke methane bubbles in manure stored below to cause a fire hazard.
Information about the project is available at tellingthestoryproject.org or by calling Heiberger at 715-389-7541.
“In most cases, it’s stuff that you look at it and go, ‘yeah, I knew about that hazard but I haven’t changed my behavior,’” Heiberger said. “I think these stories most of these stories are geared towards that. We’re trying to say, ‘look, I know what the hazards are and you know what the hazards are; here’s what happens when you’ve done it 100 times and there was never a problem, and then, this time there was a problem.’”