Dairy Channel: Think ‘stupid’ to avoid disasters

It could have been a disaster.

A man could have died.

It could have happened to any dairy.

Many things went right.

A lot of people did the right thing.

One person didn’t.

It was a clear and sunny May Saturday and the manure pit was being emptied on a dairy farm in Northeast Ohio. On a day typical of the process, a reputable and experienced custom hauler was busy at work.

The farm’s owner and manager was eating a quick lunch with his family when the phone rang. A friend who knew they were hauling that day said that part of the road the custom hauler was traveling was blocked by the highway patrol … might want to check it out.

Then it happened. Past the barricade, the manure truck was down on the driver’s side. Gouges in the pavement were stark evidence of a slide of nearly 100 feet. The truck was loaded with 4000 gallons of liquid manure in the tank mounted behind the cab. The windshield was shattered, the rear view mirror twisted up into the cab.

God was gracious that day. The driver walked away.

As did the driver of the car that went left of center causing the accident. The car’s driver stopped to check if the truck driver was okay. Then that person got back in their car and drove away. They didn’t even take the understandably shaken manure truck driver somewhere to call for help. They just left.

According to protocol, the highway patrol had called the county’s hazardous materials team and the Northeast Ohio Environmental Protection Agency when the accident happened. A wrecker was already on site and a larger unit was on the way when the dairyman arrived on the scene.

True concern. Fortunately the tank on the manure truck was holding. The dairyman quickly called a friend who owns and operates a septic pumping business and asked him to get there right away with his biggest truck. The wounded truck was partially off the road hanging over a small creek.

The initial idea of tipping the loaded truck back up with the wreckers was discarded. The septic truck would pump out the manure first. A hole was cut in the side of the manure tank which was now on top. The tank held until it was nearly empty but then started to leak. When the leak couldn’t be stopped, all hands grabbed shovels and literally dug a dam across the creek to contain any manure that might get that far.

After the tank was emptied, they pumped another 3 loads out of the creek till no trace of manure was left. Manure and water were pumped out on the nearby field that was the original hauling destination.

In the end. The hazardous materials and EPA field officials observed the process and declared the quick and efficient cleanup a success. The highway patrol cited the truck driver for loss of control. Chances of finding the car’s driver that caused the accident? Poor at best.

The dairyman credits all involved for keeping the lines of communication open and working together to come up with the best solution. He and his wife took pictures of the process and collected the business cards of all involved so they have a good record of what happened and how it was successfully resolved. They will be able to contact those on the scene at a later date, if needed.

Kudos to all those involved whose early action and quick thinking kept a bad situation from getting worse.

Prevention works. How many times have you had a near miss with tractors and equipment on the road? The road where this accident happened is a back road with minimal traffic. Nothing the truck driver could have done would have prevented what happened.

As more and more people move to the country to appreciate the rural life, the potential for each and every one of you to be involved in an accident are increasing. Do everything you can to prevent you and yours from joining the statistics.

During countless hours on the road I have found myself behind equipment and silage wagons without proper signage or livestock trailers without working brake lights and turn signals. The cars behind you cannot see around your equipment or trailers to the truck lights to anticipate your actions no matter how short the trip.

Mount visible slow moving vehicle signs on silage wagons, hay wagons, manure spreaders, field equipment and tractors. Keep an extra one in the cab of the truck to tie on a wagon in a pinch. Clean off the SMV sign on the back of the spreader occasionally. Make sure all lights, directional signals and flashers work. Use them. Teach all drivers to check them and use them.

Drive defensively. Choose the road less traveled rather than the busy routes. Assume that the other driver is clueless about the right way to navigate around farm equipment and will do something stupid. It could just save your life.

(The author is northeast Ohio district extension dairy specialist.)

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