Spring planting season is the most dangerous time of the year for farmers. While the weather is warming up, tractors will be started, plows attached, and long days of hard work will begin as farmers hurry to get their crops in the ground as early as possible to increase yields.
Agriculture is one of the most dangerous jobs in the nation, which comes as a surprise to most people who are not farmers. It is no surprise to those who are involved in agriculture, however. Few, if any, farmers and ranchers do not personally know families who have lost loved ones in farm mishaps, not to mention the injuries that can cause loss of fingers, hands, arms, and legs.
According to the CDC, in 2012, 374 farmers and farm workers died from a work-related injury, resulting in a fatality rate of 20.2 deaths per 100,000 workers. Tractor overturns were the leading cause of death for these farmers and farm workers.
The most effective way to prevent tractor overturn deaths is the use of a Roll-Over Protective Structure (ROPS). Unfortunately, many farmers have older tractors without ROPS. Old equipment is no excuse for unsafe practices, however; most tractors can be retrofitted with ROPS regardless of age, and farmers owning such tractors are encouraged to install them prior to the next planting season.
Because tractor accidents continue to be the leading cause of injuries and deaths, Gunn-Mowery has compiled a few safety tips:
Before using the tractor:
- Review the operator’s manual
- Check shields and guards
- Walk around the tractor to ensure no small children are near
- Adjust the seat so you can easily reach the controls
- Use handrails when getting on and off the tractor
When using the tractor:
- Securely fasten seat belt if the tractor has ROPS
- If possible, avoid operating the tractor near ditches, embankments, and holes
- Reduce speed when turning, crossing slopes, and maneuvering through rough, slick, or muddy surfaces
- Watch where you are going, especially at row ends, on the roads, and around trees
- Never allow any passengers to ride (there is only one seat for a reason!)
- Operate the tractor smoothly, no jerky turns, starts, or stops
- Hitch only to the drawbar and hitch points recommended by the tractor manufacturer
- When the tractor is stopped, set brakes securely and use park lock
- Shut off motor during refueling
- When using public roads make sure that the tractor has lights, reflectors, and a slow-moving vehicle emblem
- If operating the tractor on public roads one-half hour after sunset to one half-hour before sunrise, the tractor must have the necessary lights and reflector required by state laws
Finally, special attention must be paid to children on the farm during planting season. Nothing is harder for parents than losing a child. Regardless of their maturity and experience on the farm, kids will still be kids and kids look for shortcuts. Shortcuts when operating equipment often lead to tragic results, never take for granted your child knows better.
On average, in the U.S., 113 children less than 20 years of age die annually from farm-related injuries, with most of these deaths occurring to youth 16-19 years of age (34%). Of the leading sources of fatal injuries to youth, 23% involved machinery (including tractors), 19% involved motor vehicles (including ATVs), and 16% were due to drowning.
Safety on the farm can save lives and prevent accidents. Make sure your employees, volunteers, and family members are all aware of the dangers. Your diligence and communication could be the key to a successful (and injury-free) planting season.