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Promoting Safety in Agriculture: Best Practices for Vehicle Operation

Tractor overturns are the leading cause of fatal farm injuries in the United States, averaging about 130 deaths annually, and some 80% of these deaths involve experienced drivers. In fact, one in 10 operators will overturn a tractor in their lifetime, according to the University of Iowa. In addition, beyond loss of life, almost 15% of tractor overturns result in permanent disability, and 70% of farms that suffer a tractor-related fatality go out of business within the five years following the accident.

Of course, more than tractors are used in farming and related work, including trucks, cars, harvesters, ATVs and ride-on mowers to name just a few. Then there are related vehicle implements like trailers, heavy-duty rollers, sprayers, and balers. And every one of them comes with safety concerns.

Developing a safety mindset

Any workers driving, riding on, or connecting implements to or disconnecting them from farm vehicles need to have the proper safety training – and regular reminders to follow the protocols you’ve put in place. Even if they don’t use a specific vehicle regularly, they should learn how to operate, park and store each one appropriately. In many cases, this should also involve training with related attachments.

Everyone on the farm should also understand how to move around and interact in areas where farm vehicles are operating, such as knowing who has the right of way and recognizing the required turn radiuses of different vehicles so they can stay at a safe distance. Every person should also follow a regular routine of removing vehicle keys (even from their personal vehicles) and locking all storage areas to prevent unqualified people, unwanted visitors and curious children from getting inside.

There are also some vehicle-specific safety steps that are recommended, with some key ones listed below. 

Use rollover protection structures

Almost half (47%) of tractor rollovers involve tractors that don’t have rollover protection structures (ROPS), such as roll bars and seat belts. Adding ROPS may reduce the chance of death and permanent disability. In addition, U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration statistics show that operators injured in overturns on tractors without ROPS lost more than three months of work, while workers who sustained injuries on tractors with these safety structures lost only three weeks.

Train workers in safe PTO operation

The power takeoff (PTO) shaft, which sends power from a vehicle engine to any secondary machinery – such as a tractor connected to a rotary tiller, chipper/shredder or spading machine – creates another farm safety concern. While a PTO shaft may be easy to connect and disconnect, workers often get their clothing, jewelry, hair or even limbs caught in the rotating shaft, which can cause them to be pulled into the equipment. Adding protective guards and safety stickers at each exposed part of the PTO shaft can be an effective safety measure. Requiring workers to disengage PTO components before exiting the vehicle, to tie back long hair and to avoid loose clothing or jewelry can also reduce risk. 

Follow safe ATV processes

All-terrain vehicles (ATVs) have become quite common on farms, but don’t let their small size and nimble handling lull you into complacency; they still pose a safety danger. Proper training is essential, and recommended safety protocols from the ATV Safety Institute include:

  • An age limit of 12 years for operators, which goes up to 16 years for larger vehicles
  • The use of appropriate riding gear, such as transport-approved helmets, goggles, gloves, boots and long-sleeve shirts and pants
  • Familiarization with each model’s owner’s manual
  • Additional training on any attachments that could affect the ATV’s operation, braking or stability

Reinforce protections

Whether you have a fleet of complex vehicles on your farm or only a few basic models, make sure you provide initial training, supply any required safety gear, and always keep safety part of your discussions. If you see a safety issue, speak with your employees immediately. And most important, lead by example!

For help when an incident does occur, great farm insurance and workers compensation coverage can help keep your enterprise from financial ruin. Westfield Insurance offers a wide range of crucial insurance products to protect our nation’s farms. Between your safety protocols and our solid agriculture insurance, you can promote the well-being of your farmhands and your total operation.