Champaign Co. fatal farming accident highlights dangers of job

The death of an Urbana man is highlighting the dangers that local farmers face on the job every day.

According to statistics from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, agriculture ranks among the most hazardous of industries.

In 2016, 417 farmers and farm workers died from work-related injury, resulting in a fatality rate of 21.4 deaths per 100,000 workers, according to the most recent data available from the agency.

Michael Russell, 78, was killed on Wednesday in a farming accident on U.S. 36, east of Urbana.

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Champaign County sheriff’s deputies said Russell was checking a John Deere field planter for an airline leak — but while he was under the planter, the equipment collapsed and trapped him.

Tom Nisonger, a friend of Russell’s and fellow farmer with the Champaign County Farm Bureau, said the news was a tough pill to swallow.

“That hit me like a ton of bricks. My son told me when I got home from hauling grain,” he said. “It hurts. It really, really hurts to lose a friend like that.”

Nisonger said his friend, ‘Mick’s’ death was the definition of a tragedy. He got emotional as he talked about Russell, his family and his lifelong dedication to farming.

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He said he thinks Russell’s death was a freak accident, but that farmers do need to take the proper precautions when they’re out working.

Nisonger, with the help of his grandson Jake, pointed out how easy it is for someone to be crushed by the arm of a field cultivator or lose a body part if they’re standing too close to a bin sweep in a silo — the horror stories are endless and close to home.

“I had an uncle that was run over by the rear wheel of the tractor and it was an hour before anyone found him,” Nisonger said. “He survived that but then he quit farming.”

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Nisonger also asked drivers for patience, as many more farmers will be hauling equipment on the roads because rain has delayed planting.

Nearly a year ago, a Shelby County farmer died in an accident involving a tractor and an SUV in Turtle Creek Twp., .

The farmer was driving a tractor that was pulling an agricultural sprayer when the SUV struck the sprayer and tractor in the rear. The farmer was ejected from the tractor.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration says that most farmworker injuries and deaths are caused by tractor incidents and recommends regular inspections, safety checks and keeping children away from tractors.

Nisonger said farmers rarely use any protective equipment — the most major being a fully charged cell phone to call for help.

He said farmers have to rely on teaching up-and-comers how to use farm equipment safely, and sometimes the best advice he could give is just to be extremely cautious.

“Don’t take chances. It ain’t worth it,” he said.

The Champaign County Sheriff’s Office is continuing to investigate the fatal accident.

417 — farmers and farm workers who died in 2016

21.4 — deaths per 100,000 farm workers in the same year

78 — age of victim in latest local fatal farming accident in Champaign County

The Springfield News-Sun is committed to covering stories that impact the local agricultural communities in Clark and Champaign Counties.

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