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Bill Field
GET SAFETY TRAINING: Safety specialist Bill Field says one thing farmers can do to reduce the risk of death while working on the farm is obtain more safety training.

Tractor accidents keep top spot in farm fatality summary

Many people underestimate the dangers involved with tractors.

One teenager with farm experience saw his friend driving a utility tractor with a big round bale on forks on a front-end loader. The loader was raised as high as it would go.

“I told them they were risking flipping over, but they didn’t believe me,” he says. “I’ve driven a tractor more than he has, and I know what can happen.”

Good for the teenager giving the advice! For the one who didn’t listen, hopefully he’ll figure it out without learning the hard way.

Bill Field, Purdue University Extension farm safety specialist, and Charlene Cheng recently issued the annual Indiana farm fatality report for 2016. Farm fatalities shot up dramatically last year, posting the third-highest number in 47 years.

Look beyond numbers
Here is the first part of Indiana Prairie Farmer’s two-part interview with Field about the report and farm safety. Field consulted with Cheng before providing his answers.

Farm fatalities were the third highest in 47 years in Indiana in 2016. What do you believe was the primary cause? Farming also involves various machinery and equipment that continue to contribute to higher farm-related fatality and injury numbers. The number of OSHA-exempt small farms is much higher than commercial operations that at least try to meet current standards.

Lack of appropriate training and training of new personnel have always been issues that must be addressed, especially on small farms. Also, the fatality case information is more documentable in the past decade, and the surveillance is more complete. Better data might also contribute to higher documented numbers of farm fatalities. Finally, there is a larger number of fatalities documented on small hobby farms today.

Tractor accidents in the past have always accounted for a much higher percentage of deaths than many realize. Is that still true today? Fatality-wise, tractors and machinery are involved in a much higher percentage than all other categories. Tractor-related incidents accounted for 45% of the total farm fatalities in Indiana. Tractors are used for many purposes, and are operated by both skilled and unskilled workers and by both young and old operators.

Grain bin entrapments get lots of publicity. Is grain handling safety still an important area to emphasize compared to other areas that result in farm fatalities? Working in and around agricultural confined spaces such as grain bins is dangerous with the potential risk of grain entrapment, engulfment, in-bin auger entanglement, asphyxiation and falls. It’s still an important issue, but there are several other topics that deserve more attention [than they get]. They include tractor rollovers, working with trees in timber lots and more.

What three things do you wish a farmer would do to stay safer? Proper usage of personal protective equipment would be the first thing. This can include a number of things, depending upon the situation. Second, I would like to see them maintain the equipment and machinery in a timely manner. This includes older equipment. Most tractor rollover deaths occur on tractors which do not have rollover protective structures. We are only aware of one fatality, going back through our data, which occurred in a tractor equipped with a ROPS. All the other cases of fatalities from tractor rollovers involved tractors without ROPS. Finally, I wish they would get proper safety training for themselves and their employees.

Read more about making your farm safer for your family and employees in Part 2 of this interview.

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