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Vehicle Hazards

In 2011, vehicular accidents caused close to half (276) of the 570 fatalities among agricultural workers.1 Injuries from vehicular incidents are serious and debilitating to farm activities.

Tractors and Harvesters

Farm tractors accounted for the deaths of 1,533 people between 2003 and 2011 and were of fatal occupational injuries in agriculture, forestry, and fishing.2 Today, tractor incidents remain the leading source of death and injury on farms.2,3 The National Agricultural Tractor Safety Initiative provides information on current research and resources available to help reduce tractor hazards.

Rollovers - Tractor rollovers are the single deadliest type of injury incident on farms in the United States. In 2011, only 59 percent of tractors had rollover protective structures (ROPs).4 To help understand and prevent farm injuries and deaths, NIOSH has funded studies nationwide on tractor safety and how to protect farmworkers and children. Here are highlights of what researchers have found:

  • Overturns occurred at more than 3,000 operations in a 12 month period. 53% of the overturned tractors were equipped with ROPS.4
  • Nearly 1 in 10 farms surveyed had experienced a tractor overturn during the history of their operation. (In a 2002 study of more than 6,000 randomly selected principal farm operators in Kentucky).5
  • Operators injured during overturns of tractors without roll bars lost an average of 97.8 days of farm work (more than three months), compared to operators who were protected by roll bars and seatbelts. Workers suffering injuries during overturns of tractors with roll bars had an average of 21.7 days (about three weeks) among operators injured.5
  • Tractor deaths tell only a small part of the story, because for every person killed in a tractor incident, four people are non-fatally injured in tractor overturns.5

The OSH Act requires an approved ROPs for all agricultural tractors over 20 horsepower that were manufactured after October 25, 1976, and which are operated by a hired worker. (1928.51(b)(1))

Power take-off (PTO) shafts

Tractors and harvesters should be inspected before they are operated and all operators should be trained in the safe operation. Farmworkers should understand the dangers of the PTO shaft.

The PTO is a driveshaft, usually on a tractor, that can be used to provide power to an attachment or separate machine. It is designed to be easily connected and disconnected. The PTO allows implements to draw energy from the tractor's engine.

Clothing can get caught in PTOs and the associated shafts and joints. The worker may be pulled into the shaft, which often results in loss of a limb or death. Some implements do use plastic guards to try to keep a person from becoming entangled in a PTO shaft, but even with guards, farmworkers need to exercise caution around PTO shafts when they are connected into a tractor or truck. Farmworkers need to know the following:

  • All shielding should remain in place and any damaged or missing shields should be replaced.
  • Farmworkers should not wear loose clothing or have long hair while working around a running machine. Hair and clothing can be caught by the machinery.
  • Farmworkers should stop the PTO when dismounting from the vehicle.
Other Tractor and Harvester Hazards

Farm tractors are involved in most farm fatalities and injuries. Dangers exist from improperly hitching a tractor, using steer skidders incorrectly, carbon monoxide poisoning, and clothing and hair entanglement in improperly guarded moving parts.

  • Given that harvesting equipment may be used once a year over relatively few days, the operator should re-familiarize themselves with the piece of equipment, by inspecting it and reviewing proper operating procedures.
  • The addition of harvesting equipment to tractors can change the balance of the vehicle and requires farmworkers’ constant attention.
  • Plan harvesting so equipment travels downhill on steep slopes to avoid overturns. Space tractor wheels as far apart as possible when operating on slopes.
All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs)

The National Safety Council has developed recommendations for using ATVs6. The recommendations include:

  • ATVs with an engine size of 70cc to 90cc should be operated by people at least 12 years of age.
  • ATVs with an engine size of greater than 90cc should only be operated by people at least 16 years of age.
  • Wear appropriate riding gear: DOT-, Snell ANSI-approved helmet, goggles, gloves, over-the-ankle boots, long-sleeve shirt and long pants.
  • Read owners’ manuals carefully.
  • ATVs are not made for multiple riders. Never carry anyone else on the ATV.
  • Any added attachments affect the stability, operating and braking of the ATV.
  • Just because an attachment is available doesn't mean that it can be used without increasing your risk of being injured.
  • Do not operate the ATV on streets, highways or paved roads.
GENERAL VEHICLE SAFETY
Vehicle Operation
  • Do not allow passengers to ride in the vehicle.
  • Remove persons not involved in the activity from the site.
  • Shut off vehicle for refueling.
  • Park the vehicle whenever there is no driver inside, so that the:
    • Motor is shut off
    • Brakes are engaged
    • Transmission is in park-lock or in gear
    • Keys are removed
    • Attachments are disengaged
  • All farm equipment traveling on any roadway should be equipped with an approved Slow Moving Vehicle (SMV) emblem. Emblems should be clean and in good shape.
  • Use a standardized system of hand signals to communicate when noise and or distance does not allow for verbal communication.
  • Falling Object Protective Structures (FOPS) should be installed on equipment where the user runs the risk of being struck by falling debris.
  • Never tow an implement that is improperly hitched.
Vehicle Storage
  • Store away from structures housing livestock-to reduce the likelihood of fire.
  • Do not store with fuel storage tanks.
  • Do not store with debris.
  • Ensure that electrical lines are high enough for vehicles to pass below.
  • Ensure there is an easy exit from the storage structure.
  • Ensure the storage structure is lockable.
  • Ensure the floor surfaces are smooth and clean.
  • Remove keys from all vehicles.
  • Do not allow non-employees or children into storage structures.

1 Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), United States Department of Labor.  Occupational Injuries and Illnesses and Fatal Injuries Profiles database queried by industry for Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Hunting (GP2AFH), Accessed June 2013.

2 Myers, M.L.,Cole, H. P., Westneat, S.C. "Projected Incidence and Cost of Tractor Overturn-Related Injuries in the United States." Journal of Agricultural Safety and Health, 14(1):93-103; 2008.

3 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Worker Health Chartbook, 2004: Chapter 3 Focus on Agriculture.

4 National Agricultural Statistics Service. [2013]. 2011 Farm and Ranch Safety Survey. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Statistics Service.

5 Cole, H.P., Myers, M.L., Westneat, S.C. "Frequency and severity of injuries to operators during overturns of farm tractors." Journal of Agricultural Safety and Health, 12(2):127-38, 2006.

6 National Safety Council. All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV) Safety.

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