NORMAL — Accidents on the farm are usually caused by a random series of events that can lead to death if the circumstances are extreme enough.

That statement comes from a man who knows.

Chip Petrea was baling hay on the family farm in near Iuka in Southern Illinois' Marion County in 1978 when he became trapped inside a working baler, causing the amputation of both legs above the knee.

"Accidents are caused by multiple events," he said. "If one of those events doesn't occur, the accident doesn't happen. For instance in my situation, if I had turned the baler off, I would have not have been hurt."

And he likely would not have been in Normal on Monday, as a panelist on farm safety with the International Society for Ag Safety and Health conference at the Marriott Hotel and Conference Center in uptown Normal. The four-day conference concludes Wednesday and focuses on preventing agricultural injuries and illnesses.

After the accident, Petrea returned to the farm, but eventually left to pursue an education in ag-safety research. He received a masters in agricultural education from the University of Illinois in 1989 and received his PH.D  from the UI in 1996. He is now the principle research specialist in agriculture at the university.

"I wanted to learn more about why my accident happened," he said. "I'm not trying to push the blame on anyone else. I got hurt. There wasn't a deficiency in me. This is just the way humans act. There is stress of a family farm, or maybe a lack of sleep, and there are several behavioral components that can lead to stress. As soon as you become stressful, your decision-making changes. That can lead to being injured."

About 160 people are attending the conference, which is the largest annual gathering of professionals dedicated to agricultural safety and health, said media relations coordinator Scott Heiberger. The International Society for Ag Safety and Health includes engineers, educators, insurers, physicians, nurses, veterinarians, statisticians, communicators anthropologists and business leaders.

"We are geared more toward professionals working in the agricultural safety field, however, most people here have some kind of background in farming," he said. 

Illinois Farm Bureau Program Manager Peggy Romba said it was the first time the conference has been held in Normal in more than two decades.

"I have a passion for ag safety," she said. "Farms have grown over the years. The equipment has changed. It's faster. It's bigger. Rollover tractor accidents are still the top cause of injury. But grain safety is a huge concern because more farmers are storing more grain on their property. It used to be we had an 18-foot bin and now we have these giants things that hold 200,000 bushels of corn at a time. It's just massive and they can be very dangerous."

​Follow Kevin Barlow on Twitter: @pg_barlow.

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Staff Writer for The Pantagraph.

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