Injuries involving farm tractors result in nearly 270 deaths each year in the U.S. and account for almost 265,000 restricted workdays and some 11,000 lost-time injuries.
A long-range plan, the Tractor Risk Abatement and Control (TRAC), is aimed at dramatically reducing tractor-related fatalities by recommending that all tractors have rollover protective structures (ROPS) with seat belts by the year 2015.
The plan also includes recommendations for legislation and ongoing community-based education and training.
According to TRAC conference proceedings, farm tractors are the primary source of fatal injuries in agriculture. Overturns consistently account for more than half of all tractor-related deaths.
Yet, even through rollover protection structures and seat belts have been available for tractors for many years, the National Institute for Farm Safety says, some two-thirds of tractors in the U.S. lack this important equipment.
TRAC's assumptions on how more than 2,000 lives could be saved by the year 2015 are:
- Tractors with ROPS and seat belts would increase from 38 percent at present to 99 percent.
- Because the ROPS-seat belt combination is nearly 100 percent effective in prevention of tractor deaths, overturn fatalities could be expected to drop from an average 148 yearly to only two.
- Other related efforts would be 50 percent effective, resulting in a drop in non-overturn tractor-related fatalities from 122 per year to 61.
Among other specific recommendations are to develop an ongoing educational/marketing program in conjunction with manufacturers and producer groups to create a change in farmer attitudes regarding acceptance of ROPS; to establish a tax rebate and/or direct subsidy program to encourage ROPS and seat belt installation; to enact federal legislation to mandate ROPS on nearly all tractors by 2015; and to promote the sale and installation of other safety devices, such as approved extra rider instructional seats in new tractors with cabs, and devices to prevent bypass start runovers.
While tractor accidents represent a major portion of farm-related deaths, injuries, and lost time, and agriculture continues to be one of the nation's most hazardous occupations, a doubly distressing statistic is that young people under the age of 20 are involved in a high percentage of those accidents.
Ironically, during this year's Farm Safety Week observance, a three-year-old boy lost both arms in a grain auger, and several other farm tragedies involving farm children occurred about the same time.
"We often walk on eggshells in dealing with farm safety," says Extension safety specialist John Shutske. "We're careful not to offend local farmers with talk of... child protection regulations. When I speak with farm parents, I find myself dancing around potentially workable solutions... or I hesitate to push too hard to advocate potentially expensive solutions like replacing an old, narrow front-end, no-ROPS tractor. But as I look at the many tragedies that occurred on farms during Farm Safety Week, I hear a voice in the back of my mind, saying `Enough is enough.'
"When are rural leaders going to step forward and recognize that the farming workplace is a potentially deadly industrial environment? When will the media and prominent farm safety spokespersons stop characterizing these events as `freak accidents'? When will farm parents get at the real root of incidents like these and realize that farm safety is a deeper issue than simply thinking about admonishing directives such as `Be Safe,' `Use Common Sense,' or even `Make sure all guards and shields are in place on your augers'?"
The need, Shutske says, is for leaders in farm safety to continue pressing agricultural leaders, parents, policymakers, educators, and others "to see and understand that farm safety is an incredibly complex issue," and to themselves say "enough is enough" when it comes to farm tragedies involving young people.