August 13, 2009
Safety on the farm is the most important aspect of working in agriculture. It is not only in a farmer’s benefit, but it is the top responsibility of him or her to take precautions and measures to prevent any accidents. Even the smallest distraction or moment off focus can mean certain disaster if farm equipment is not used in the proper, safe manner. Assuredly, most of you already know how to safely operate the equipment you use daily. We’re just going to go over some relevant statistics and measures to make the hard work you do even safer.
Agriculture ranks among the most hazardous industries and is listed second among most dangerous industries in the United States. Farmers run a very high risk of injury on the job. The combination of harsh weather conditions, long working hours, and heavy equipment operation can even cause death to farm workers. Most agricultural related injuries are caused by equipment, whether it be from misuse or inadequate maintenance. The best way to stay safe on the farm is to become aware of all potential dangers and to be proactive in avoiding them.
Approximately 1,750,000 full-time workers were employed in production agriculture in the U.S. in 2007. During this same year, 411 farmers and farm workers died from a work-related injury for a fatality rate of 23.5 deaths per 100,000 workers.
- On average, 113 youth less than 20 years of age die annually from farm-related injuries (1995 -2002), with most of these deaths occurring to youth 16-19 years of age (34%).
- Of the leading sources of fatal injuries to youth on U.S. farms, 23% percent involved machinery (includes tractors), 19% involved motor vehicles (includes ATVs), and 16% were due to drowning.
- In 2006, an estimated 23,100 children and adolescents were injured on farms; 5,800 of these injuries were due to farm work.
- The most effective way to prevent tractor overturn deaths is the use of a Roll-Over Protective Structure (ROPS). In 2006, only 59% of tractors used on farms in the US were equipped with ROPS. If ROPS were placed on all tractors used on US farms manufactured since the mid-1960’s, the prevalence of ROPS-equipped tractors could be increased to over 80%.
- Every day, about 243 agricultural workers suffer lost-work-time injury. Five percent of these injuries result in permanent impairment.
Tractor overturns are the leading cause of occupational agricultural deaths in the United States. Between 1992 and 2005, 1,412 workers on farms died from tractor overturns.
Always have a buddy or friend working with you that has solid knowledge of the equipment being used, or can get the necessary help to you if needed. Having a cell phone or walkie-talkie radio system is a must.
I had a good friend that was working on a tractor by himself and turned the tractor over. His right leg was pinned under the tractor and he was not found until five hours after the accident. He had to have his leg amputated just below the knee cap. I can speak from experience from having been new to tractors and their use. I had two incidents that could have ended in serious injuries. I was fortunate to not be hurt from either. I was discing an old field, getting ready for planting and ran over a large nest of yellow jackets. I jumped off the tractor and was nearly ran over by the discs behind the tractor. I was able to stop the tractor before it would crash into a creek bed. During the other incident, I was bailing square bales of hay alone. While unhooking the hay baler, it settled slightly and caught my fingers. It took me about 45 minutes to work my fingers loose and I only had a little skin knocked off. This goes to show that even experienced farmers have the potential for injury and incident.
Prevention of Injuries and Incidents
The farm tractor is not a machine that can be operated safely without responsibility on the part of the driver. There are eight primary responsibilities the safe tractor operator must meet whenever the tractor is used. They are:
- Proper maintenance
- Pre-operation checks
- Avoiding injury-incident situations
- Maintaining safety features
- Use the tractor as intended
- Refuel safely
- Drive safely
- Adjust the tractor for safety
The safe farmer will recognize dangerous situations and will make changes to remove the unsafe conditions.
Of the many tractor injury-incidents that happen, few are caused by machinery or equipment failure. Most are caused, directly or indirectly, by carelessness and unnecessary hurry. Use safe procedures, pay attention to what is being done and how it is being done, and think about what you are doing. For a detailed report on preventing death and injury in tractor overturns with rollover protective devices, visit the CDC NIOSH Science Blog. Farmers, it is up to you to work to ensure there exists a safe work environment. We depend on you for America being fed. Thanks for all your hard work and passion for a job well done.