By Ned Birkey
“Shifting Farm Safety into High Gear” is the theme for 2019 National Farm Safety and Health Week, which will be Sept. 15-21.
Ever since President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the first National Farm Safety Week proclamation in 1944, the third week of September has been recognized as the annual observance to remind farmers and others involved in agriculture to be safe.
This annual promotion was initiated by the National Safety Council and now has shifted to the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety, the agricultural partner of NSC, which has served the agricultural family and business community since 1997.
Agriculture still is one of the most dangerous occupations in America with 581 fatalities in 2017, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That equates to 23 deaths per 100,000 workers. Transportation incidents, which include tractor overturns, were the leading cause of death for farmers and farmworkers.
With schools in session, there are more cars on the roads — both early and later in the day — some with inexperienced drivers. As we go into fall, with shorter daylight hours, farmers and motorists both are reminded to be vigilant when operating on roads. This year’s theme is one that hits home and reminds us that it is everyone’s responsibility for safety on the roads.
Consider the following:
- Nearly half of all incidents between motorists and farm implements involve either a left-hand turn or a rear-end collision. Most tractors, combines and self-propelled equipment that were manufactured in the past 40 years came equipped from the factory with turn signals. Farmers and motorists should use turn signals.
- A car moving at 50 mph has less than 10 seconds to avoid a collision with a tractor moving at 20 mph that is 400 feet ahead.
- It only takes five seconds for a motorist driving 55 mph to close a gap the length of a football field when approaching a tractor or combine.
- Most farm equipment operators will keep an eye on the traffic behind them and pull over for cars to pass when it is safe to do so. However, farm operators have a right to drive their equipment on (their side) of the road. And mailboxes, bridges, drainage ditches and other roadside obstructions will limit the ability of farm equipment to drive on the shoulder of the road.
- Motorists approaching farm equipment should pass cautiously.
- Neither farm equipment operators nor motorists should be using personal hand-held electronic devices while driving.
- All farm equipment should be equipped with a triangular, bright orange and highly reflective slow-moving vehicle (SMV) emblem affixed and clearly visible from the rear of the tractor, combine or implement.
- It is not legal to use SMV emblems to mark driveways or mailboxes, or for any use other than for implements of husbandry on a public road.
With the boundaries of rural and urban Monroe County and southeast Michigan blending more and more every day, it is important for all motorists to be aware of and cautious of farm equipment on the roads.
Birkey is an MSU Extension educator emeritus and owner of Spartan Agricultural Consulting.