Taylor, Missouri – It started as a regular Father’s Day with plans for a family get-together to celebrate the beloved head of the family. Little did Lacy Miller know that this would be her father’s last day on earth.
Miller’s father, Marion County farmer Ralph Griesbaum, died in a tractor overturn accident in June 2018 while burying a dead cow in a laundromat. It was a routine farm mission that became fatal.
Tractor rollover accidents are the leading cause of death in agriculture, which is the most dangerous occupation in the country, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Contractions account for more than half of farm-related deaths in the United States, 80% of which occur in experienced growers. One in 10 operators flips a tractor in his or her lifetime.
But those are just statistics, says University of Missouri health and safety specialist Karen Funkenbusch. These numbers do not tell the story of farmers’ families and communities suffering emotionally and financially when a farmer dies.
Known for his black hat and contagious smile, Ralph Griesbaum often shared his passion for farming during his 58 years. Auctioneer and square dancer, he loved talking about farming with 4-H’ers, FFA members and other farmers and ranchers. He and his wife were high school sweethearts, and married just two weeks after she graduated from high school. They were looking forward to life on the farm after she retired from teaching just a month ago.
Since 1894, members of the Griesbaum family have raised cattle, hay, and grain on the rolling hills that border the Fabius River in northeastern Missouri. Griesbaum, a fourth-generation farmer, was like other busy farmers who often overlook safety while going about their chores.
Lacy Miller says safety is no accident. It takes constant reminders like messages from Funkenbusch and other leaders in the ag community to promote during National Farm Safety and Health Week, which is observed annually during the third week of September.
Griesbaum was not wearing a seat belt, and his tractor did not have a rollover protection device when it overturned. Griesbaum was 3 years old when his father bought the tractor – the first new tractor his father could afford. It represented struggle, hard work, and the pride of family farming and was a staple in family portraits and at community marches.
Nearly 99% of rollover accidents can be prevented when tractors have a rollover protection device and the driver wears a seat belt, Funkenbusch says. The government did not impose ROP tractors on ROP tractors before 1985. Many of these old tractors are still in use today.
Tractors can be retrofitted with ROPs but require special engineering and installation to adequately protect the driver. A national project is offering cash rebates to farmers who install hidden operating systems. In Missouri, more than 70 farmers have signed up since 2016, but the national waiting list is long, and only one Missouri farmer has received assistance so far.
Funkenbusch says the cost of modifying the tractor with the ROP is small given the potential to save lives. The National Rollover Protection Structure (ROPS) Discount Program website estimates the cost of retooling a tractor with a crankshaft at $1,200.
Penn State Cooperative Extension says that 70% of farms with a rollover accident have been out of business within five years. This is because the death costs the family and society an estimated $900,000, in addition to the loss of agricultural knowledge and management experience.
Fortunately, Ralph Griesebaum left behind a fifth generation of farmers. Lacey and her husband farm half of the farm while her brother farms the other half, every day they see where their father died.
Daily encounters remind them to focus on safety over the coming fall and harvest, check cereal boxes, take children to school and other chores. They try to share the word with the other farm families so that they can avoid the loss that the Lacey family has suffered.
The family suggested that their father’s memorials go to the Missouri Farm Bureau for Agriculture. The memorial fund was used to create a permanent exhibit in the Missouri Farm Bureau building at the Sedalia State Fairgrounds. The exhibition features a modified tractor with rollover protection device and a video with the story of the Griesbaum family.
We’ve had a tragedy. Please don’t have it in your family, Miller said in a press release. “Safety is no accident. You have to do the safe thing every time.”
National Agricultural Health and Safety Week Stories from MU Extension
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