Brain Injury Forces Tough Decision

Ladder Accident Leads to Sale of Illinois Family Farm

Todd Neeley
By  Todd Neeley , DTN Staff Reporter
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Aaron Moore (left) and his father John at the family's Manhattan, Illinois, farm. (Photo Courtesy of Aaron Moore)

OMAHA (DTN) -- John Moore's family is leaving their Manhattan, Illinois, farm -- not an easy decision for a farmstead that dates back to 1926.

The farm economy is tough, but there's so much more behind the family putting their farm up for sale.

The family's succession plan was wiped away on a cold December day last year when John's 28-year-old son Aaron suffered a traumatic brain injury as a result of a farm accident.

As the family learned the tough way, agriculture remains among the most dangerous industries.

While it is difficult to determine accurate national statistics for farm accident injuries and fatalities, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has reported between 2003 and 2011 more than 5,800 agriculture workers were killed in the United States. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in 2012 stated that every day about 170 agricultural workers suffer lost work time due to an injury. Meanwhile, OSHA said that each day more than 240 agriculture workers have what OSHA calls a "serious lost-work-time injury." Five percent of those injuries lead to permanent impairment, NIOSH stated on its website.

In Aaron's case, he is alive. That's the only thing that matters, his dad said.

"He's not 100%, but he is an amazing kid," said John Moore.

THE FALL

On Dec. 19, 2014, when his parents were away, Aaron was home putting the finishing touches on insulating a storage building. A friend planned to help out in the evening, but Aaron decided to do it himself.

With insulation materials in hand, Aaron climbed atop a 12- to 14-foot ladder above a new concrete floor. Climbing the ladder until he was near the top, Aaron stretched out toward the ceiling -- his head now 16 feet above the floor.

He lost his balance. The ladder went one way, he went the other. Plummeting straight down, his legs tangled on the ladder steps as he slammed his head into the floor.

Seriously injured, Aaron lay alone in the cold building. No one knows how long it was until Aaron's friend found him unconscious, convulsing and not breathing.

"By some miracle his friend had finished early to come over at 5 p.m., some hour and a half early," John said. His friend dialed 911 and paramedics arrived in minutes.

Aaron's skull was fractured in six places and doctors extracted a quart of blood from his brain during a 5 1/2-hour surgery.

"The doctor said the next four days would be critical as Aaron was placed in an induced coma to see if he makes it, literally," John said. "They didn't expect him to make it. Then he woke up four days later, was talking and knew who we were. They said he's made it this far and that is a good sign."

However, Aaron couldn't move his left side; a CT scan showed inactivity on the right side of his brain where he hit his head. He was transferred to a rehabilitation hospital in Naperville, Illinois. Within two months, he returned home for physical therapy.

Aaron's continuing recovery comes with lasting effects that make it difficult for him to follow in his father's footsteps.

"His speech is fine. His cognitive thinking is fine. His short-term memory is not the greatest and he can't deal with stress at all, as his arms and legs begin shaking in stressful situations," John said.

"With farming being such a stressful job, the mental stress of borrowing money to make a crop and worry about grain markets, he can't deal with it. And I can't handle the farm, so we're calling it quits."

LADDER FALLS COMMON

What happened to Aaron Moore is fairly common, according to Karen Funkenbusch, the rural safety and health specialist with University of Missouri Extension. She said national data shows slips and falls are the second most common cause of farm injuries next to motor vehicle accidents (which include ATVs).

Falls from ladders can be prevented. The University of Florida Extension Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences offers a number of tips to secure ladders. (See http://tinyurl.com/…)

The tips include:

-- Ladders should be long enough that they can rest against an upper support, so users can work with their waist no higher than the top rung of the ladder, or above the rung where the side rails are resting against the upper support.

-- The top three rungs of a straight ladder and the top two steps of a step-ladder should never be used for the feet.

-- Lower ends of side rails should be equipped with slip-resistant pads if used on hard surfaces. The same is true for upper ends of side rails if they rest against a surface.

-- For each 3 or 4 feet of rise from the base to the upper resting edge of a ladder, the base should be 1 foot out from a vertical line from the upper resting edge of a ladder to the working surface. For example, if a ladder is leaning against a ledge 20 feet off the ground, the ladder base should be 5 feet back from a wall.

The OSHA study of the 5,800 fatalities said they included falling from ladders, but also such tragedies as tractor rollovers, grain bin accidents and being run over by combines. The leading cause of death among farm workers between 1992 and 2009 was tractor overturns, according to OSHA.

CHALLENGES COLLECTING NATIONAL DATA

The number of farm injuries and fatalities kept by the federal government probably is incorrect and understated. There isn't universal agreement on what constitutes a farm accident. Some states track accidents closer than others and examine the trends.

For example, Indiana reported farm accidents have become more frequent in recent years, although those involving children have become less common.

A Purdue University Indiana farm fatality summary published by the university's agricultural safety and health program this week shows a spike in farm-related accidents in the state between 2013 and 2014. Twenty-five farm-related fatalities were reported in Indiana last year, up from 18 in 2013.

Purdue said tractors and farm machinery were the most frequent agents of fatal injuries in 2014 and have been for the past 40 years.

The good news is the frequency of farm-related fatalities involving children and youth under age 21 has dropped.

In Nebraska, data collected by the University of Nebraska Medical Center shows ag fatalities and non-life-threatening ag injuries occurred in a variety of ways from 2012 to 2014.

During that time there were six tractor-related fatalities, six grain bin-related fatalities, eight roadway fatalities involving farm equipment, five related to all-terrain vehicles, three involving livestock, and 12 fatalities involving a number of different causes.

Between 2012 and 2015 there were 11 injuries involving tractors, 27 on the roadways, four involving ATVs and 14 miscellaneous injuries in Nebraska.

This week marks National Farm Safety and Health Week to help create awareness of the dangers on the farm and share safety tips. John Moore told DTN in an interview that is why this is a good time to share the family's story for the first time -- to help raise the profile of the importance of farm safety.

John said his family learned an important lesson from their tragedy: Always let someone know what you're doing.

"It's so important not to be out there alone," he said. "If I'm out on a tractor, I make sure somebody knows where I'm at and what is happening."


For statistics and tips on farm safety, here are a few sources:

Centers for Disease Control, http://tinyurl.com/…

Show Me Farm Safety, http://farmsafety.mo.gov

Occupational Safety and Health Administration, http://tinyurl.com/…

Farm safety quiz from Nationwide Insurance, http://farmsafetyquiz.com/…

Penn State University College of Agricultural Sciences, http://tinyurl.com/…

Texas State University, http://tinyurl.com/…

University of Missouri Extension, http://tinyurl.com/…

Todd Neeley can be reached at todd.neeley@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @ToddNeeleyDTN

(ES/AG)

Todd Neeley