Mississippi has, on average, about 250 farm vehicle collisions with automobiles on state highways each year, according to Herb Willcutt, Extension agricultural engineer and safety coordinator at Mississippi State University in Starkville, Miss.
“In 1997, two people died in accidents involving farm machinery on Mississippi's public roads. Another 82 people were injured in these accidents that year and an additional 174 accidents involving property damage alone were reported,” he says. “In 2000 the numbers were down slightly with 75 accidents between farm machinery and automobiles resulting in trips to the hospital and 148 accidents resulting in property damage.”
Nationally, the number of accidents involving farm machinery and automobiles exceeds 23,000 annually, with an estimated 140 people killed each year in these accidents.
“Visibility is the key to roadway safety,” Willcutt says. “Using flashing lights, turn signals, slow-moving-vehicle (SMV) emblems, reflectors and reflective tape on farm machinery can all reduce collisions with highway traffic. The best advice, though, is still to move farm equipment, including cotton trailers and grain carts, during daylight hours when traffic is light and always have an escort following with flashing lights.”
Willcutt recommends growers follow the Department of Transportation's (DOT) guidelines for using reflective tapes. Orange signifies slow moving farm equipment, and red and white signifies highway trucks and trailers, he says.
Cleaning or replacing slow-moving-vehicle emblems is another quick and inexpensive step he recommends for improving tractor travel safety. Other safety steps you can take include making sure all flashers and lights are working, avoiding travel on main roads during busy travel times, travel at safe speeds, and make sure your brakes are adjusted to apply braking power evenly.
If equipment is attached to your tractor, make sure it does not block the view of the slow-moving-vehicle emblems.
“Although there is currently no requirement for lights on cotton trailers in Mississippi, it would be very advisable to have battery- or truck-powered lights and a slow-moving-vehicle emblem on the back of all trailers and grain carts. At the very minimum, cotton trailers and grain carts should be equipped with reflectors,” Willcutt says.
Another often forgotten hazard on public roads is electrical wires. “Overhead power lines and other obstructions pose the obvious hazards of electrocution, fire and damaged equipment. And, although cotton harvesting equipment keeps getting taller, the newer models are equipped with provisions to lower the machinery in order to clear these obstacles.”
Just in case of an accident, Willcutt says farmers should maintain and periodically check fire extinguishers in every piece of farm machinery they own. He recommends a minimum 10-pound ABC-type of fire extinguisher installed on the machine where it is the most accessible.
Being safe doesn't end once you've returned home or back to the farm shop. Willcutt says farm machinery should always be parked away from human and automotive traffic, or in a secured compound. “Lower all raised components to their lowest position, set brakes or transmission to park, stop the engine, take the key, and lock the cab,” he says. “Children love to play on equipment mocking dad by pulling levers and pretending to operate the equipment, with sometimes fatal consequences.”
“You can often avoid farm-related accidents if you are alert, recognize the conditions you are operating equipment under and are very careful,” Willcutt says. “Some work can be monotonous and fatiguing, but not paying attention to your work can lead to accidents. Always realize that an arm, a leg, or even a life can be lost if you are not careful.”
Agriculture accidents, overall, result in deaths more frequently that any other industry including mining and construction.