Time to end the “farm” safety rule exemptions that Big Ag is spilling HazMat through!
Ol’ friend dropped by yesterday, seemed pretty shaken. Being a veteran of the trades not much rattles him, he’s seen it all and survived. But I’ve never seen him so stressed as he told me of what almost became a major HazMat spill, and the company didn’t give a darn.
My union brother is a retiree who took a seasonal job delivering tank trailers of ammonia to supplement his retirement. Ammonia otherwise known as NH3 is nasty stuff, just a one percent solution in the air can kill you. But it’s a staple of mass scale farming, delivered to the farm in 1000 gallon tank trailers that weight up to 7500 pounds. And did I mention that those trailers have no brakes?
So against his better judgement my friend is ordered to pull one of these 7500 pounds tanks with a 5000 pound pickup down a dirt road to a farm. The road is icy and hilly, and going up a hill the pickup loses traction. And because the 7500 pound tank trailer has no brakes, it pulls the lighter pickup right down the hill backwards. The tank trailer has a typical farm wagon chassis and “steering”, which means you can’t back its straight for more than a few feet. Ignoring his boss’s instructions my friend gently applied the pickup’s brakes, which slowed the trailer full of ammonia’s inevitable slide into the ditch.
We were lucky this time, the trailer stayed upright and intact with no leaks. But every fall and spring as the ammonia is applied we’ll hear of at least one catastrophic discharge with attendant evacuations and our firefighters risking their lives to contain the leak. It’s just another in the parade of “farm” accidents, like the worker who just died in Iowa from burns received while cleaning out a mega livestock barn or the near daily tractor tipovers. Or the slow roadway destruction caused by the loaded thousand bushel hopper pulled behind an almost as heavy tractor I passed on a paved county road today.
Under our state’s laws almost any trailer weighting over 3000 pounds must have brakes, California requires brakes for travel trailers over 1500 pounds. I pull a 2000 pound trailer myself a lot, usually at half that weight, and because I can’t find trailer brakes to fit it I won’t pull it on snow, never mind ice. But Minnesota exempts “farm” trailers from that law and lets them run the roads with no brakes, even though they can weight more than a properly licensed and braked tractor trailer rig. And if I’m plowing snow off driveways or streets with my tractor I fall under OSHA rules and the Roll Over Protection System (ROPS) roll bar must be up and my seat belt buckled, but if I’m plowing a field neither is required.
These safety rule exemptions were put in law decades ago to give our poor small farmers a break, but the “farmer” demanding that my friend pull their 7500 pound trailer with no brakes on an icy and hilly road is an exchange listed foreign corporation that does $30,000,000,000+ a year in business. That’s why it’s time to eliminate these safety exemptions that maim and kill our farm workers!