It happened in a second.
Wawanesa farmer Simon Ellis had been attempting to pull a grain truck from a muddy field last year when the tow hook he had been using broke, snapping the rope and it back in a narrow miss of his cab window.
Caught on video, Ellis posted about the incident on Twitter and shared it with the media, something he hoped would get his fellow farmers thinking about safety.
It also prompted Manitoba’s Farm Safety Program to adopt “safety while stuck” for its latest tip sheet this spring.
“Because this is a dry year, our expectation is very low that we’re going to get stuck, but you never know,” Farm Safety Program communications co-ordinator Renée Simcoe said. “I think it’s just good to use common sense. If there’s suddenly a torrential downpour that goes on for a week or two, then things are going to change extremely quickly.
“There’s going to be parts of the province where it’s always wet,” she added. “Just knowing your land, I think, is key and I think farmers are very good at that.”
Every farmer has a story about getting stuck, and in most cases they fuel laughter, gentle ribbing or the memory of shared frustration among farm families. But Morag Marjerison, farm safety consultant with Manitoba’s Farm Safety Program, says she has also seen those incidents take a horrific turn.
“I personally investigated several farm accidents where damaged equipment — chains, hooks, etc. — had let go and caused serious head and facial injuries to tractor operators where the chain had let go and then come through the back tractor window and hit the operator on the head,” she said.
She estimates she saw around four such accidents while working with Manitoba Workplace Safety and Health over several years.
The Farm Safety Program is asking farmers to pay more attention to the type of strap or chain they’re using, its condition, grade and where it is attached to both vehicles.
In a May 2 release, the program warned farmers to use recovery straps rather than tow straps. Tow ropes and tow straps do not stretch, Simcoe said, while recovery straps lack heavy metal components that might become a safety hazard.
“They are designed to absorb the jerking motion of pulling, and the continued stretch builds up tension which aids in smooth pulling,” the release read.
Likewise, the grade of a chain and hook must match the strain needed to pull out equipment. A lighter chain may stretch, even if it doesn’t break, and compromise the strength of the chain for future jobs.
Old chains may have, likewise, been compromised over time and in some cases the farmer may not know the weight rating on an old chain, Simcoe said.
The program also warns against looping the end of a chain to attach with a clevis.
“This compromises the strength of the chain,” the release reads. “The same applies to looping and hooking a chain back onto itself.”
A grade 80 chain will work with most vehicles, the group says, although heavy farm equipment should upgrade to a grade 100 chain.
Marjerison says she commonly sees stretched chains or straps that are not being maintained.
“If I’m walking around somebody’s workshop and all the equipment’s hanging up, quite often there are damaged chains hanging there, frayed straps, etc.,” she said.
She also advised farmers to inspect points where a chain or strap will be hooked on both vehicles in case any of those points are weak.
The Farm Safety Program has also urged farmers to attach straps or chains to pins, not the clevis or the shackle, watch out for clogged tailpipes that might build up exhaust, use a raised tool box (if there’s one in the truck bed) to deflect any debris, tow on the lowest gear, avoid hooking to a bumper, keep the rope short between the vehicles and keep bystanders back at least 100 feet.