Farmer Killed Operating Baler Without Guards

Jan. 12, 2010
A 10-year-old boy was watching cartoons after school when he realized his father had not returned from working in the fields at his usual time.

A 10-year-old boy was watching cartoons after school when he realized his father had not returned from working in the fields at his usual time. The boy rode his bike out to look for his father and found him leaning, unresponsive, over a baler attached to his idling tractor. The boy turned off the tractor and pedaled back home to call 911.

Emergency responders found the farmer’s shirt had wrapped around the rotating power take-off (PTO) shaft to the baler, pulling him toward the machine and breaking his neck. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

The farmer had traded the square bailer he previously owned for a used Owatonna Manufacturing Co. Round Baler Model 595 earlier that year. He used the baler for about six months before the accident.

The farmer had completed some repairs to the round baler before removing it from the equipment dealer’s premises, but the machine did not have the manufacturer-supplied guards when he traded for it or when he took it home. The guards are meant to cover the PTO shaft from the tractor, the transmission housing that couples the PTO to the baler shaft, and the baler shaft itself.

Warnings printed on these guards alert users not to service the baler without decoupling it from the PTO and not to remove the guards while the machine is in operation.

It appeared the farmer left the tractor idling and the PTO running while he tried to dislodge some cornstalks that were stuck in the conveyor that moves stalks or hay into the baler mechanism. The spinning PTO driveline caught his shirt and pulled him to his death against the baler housing.

Investigators determined the accident would not have happened if the guards had been present or if the farmer had disconnected the baler from the PTO before trying to remove the blockage.

Because the equipment dealer had executed the baler trade without supplying the round baler’s manufacturer-supplied guards, the farmer’s family sued the equipment dealer’s company for trading or selling the machine in a dangerous condition. The family argued the dealer should have known based on his expertise and a reasonable inspection that the baler needed guards to cover the PTO driveline.

Unfortunately, the farmer’s death was another reminder that those operating used equipment must take extra care to ensure all manufacturer-supplied safety measures are functioning and to be sure they have a comprehensive user’s manual for the equipment.

This month’s safety violation comes from the files of Lanny Berke, a registered professional engineer and Certified Safety Professional involved in forensic engineering since 1972. Got a safety violation to share? Send your images and explanations to [email protected].

Edited by Jessica Shapiro

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