by Tamara Scully
With no formal comprehensive data collection system for farm injuries in the United States, nonprofit agencies and university researchers throughout the nation collect data and compile statistics on injuries and fatalities related to agriculture. AgInjuryNews.org, run by the National Farm Medicine Center, is a database for farm-related injury reports, both from the U.S. and abroad.
As per the AgInjuryNews database, there were more than 50 reported ag-related incidents across the U.S. causing injuries thus far in 2019. The database gathers information from reports from news outlets around the country, identifies incident locations on a map and is searchable by year, type of incident and other parameters.
Slow moving vehicles
As spring planting gets underway, farm equipment is frequently out on public roadways. Farmers, farm workers and farm family members are going to be in close contact with machinery both in and out of the field.
Statistics show that farm injuries and fatalities are primarily due to incidents involving machinery, equipment and vehicles. Tractor rollovers, ATV accidents, Power Take-Off incidents or equipment entanglement are leading causes of injury or death. Collisions between cars and farm equipment – including tractors, combines and other motorized farm equipment – or on-farm accidents where a person is run over or pinned by farm equipment or vehicles are all too common.
In the first six weeks of 2019, at least 12 fatalities have occurred from accidents involving farm vehicles and equipment being hit by cars on public roadways. Of these vehicle/farm equipment collisions reported by AgInjuryNews, at least half involved a car striking farm equipment – typically a tractor – from behind.
Farmers are reminded to properly label equipment with the appropriate slow moving vehicle placards and to add reflective tape to the edges of equipment for enhanced visibility. Fading signs or tape should be replaced. Rear spotlights should not be used on roadways, as they are often mistaken for car headlights, but turn on headlights and other equipment lights to increase visibility. Nighttime trips should be avoided, as should trips during rush hour. Pilot vehicles, both following and preceding the equipment, should be utilized on longer trips. Adding mirrors to farm equipment can be an additional safety feature.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 258 fatalities related to farming activities in 2017. A tractor was involved in 103 of those deaths.
Tractor rollover incidents are all too common, but the use of Rollover Protection Structures (ROPs) and seatbelts are very effective in preventing fatalities. The National ROPS Rebate Program is a voluntary program which reimburses farmers for a large portion of the purchase and installation of this safety equipment. The program is currently available in New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Wisconsin. According to the National Tractor Safety Coalition, ROPs used alone will save 70% of those involved in a rollover accident, while almost 100% will survive a rollover if ROPs are used in conjunction with a seat belt.
It is estimated that only 50% of tractors in the U.S. are equipped with ROPs. The average cost of ROPs for those using the rebate program is under $400. Almost 100 deaths per year occur due to tractor overturns, and 80% of these deaths involve experienced farmers.
At least a half dozen farmers or farm workers have been injured or killed in the first quarter of 2019 by equipment incidents, not including tractor deaths. Injuries from cleaning or repairing equipment, becoming entangled in augers or chains while operating equipment or being pinned by commonly used equipment have all occurred, as per the AgInjuryNews database.
New Jersey reported one of its first farm animal injuries of the year when Wendy McDermott of Sparta was attacked by a young bull which had freed itself from its enclosure and wandered onto the local roadway. According to reports from the local New Jersey Herald newspaper, McDermott’s husband had previously been subject to aggressive behavior from the bull.
As per other news reports, members of the public had been petting the bull, as well as feeding it, from their cars prior to the police and McDermott arriving on the scene. While New Jersey is home to over 10,000 farms, many residents, even those in more rural areas of the state, are not accustomed to farm animals nor aware of the dangers they can present.
As McDermott tried to coax the bull back to her property, the bull mounted her car. The bull then followed the car back to the farm. McDermott, however, was seriously injured when she left the vehicle to try to corral the bull. The bull, according to Sparta police, was physically throwing and attacking McDermott. The bull’s attack left McDermott with upper body bruising and lacerations as well as numerous stitches to treat a head injury.
Livestock injuries and fatalities occur annually on farms throughout the country. So far in 2019, at least one farmer was killed by a bull while checking on the herd in a pasture in Nebraska. In the summer of 2018, two New York farmers were killed by bulls in separate incidents. A Wisconsin farmer was trampled by a bull in 2018 in an unwitnessed incident, while a South Carolina farmer was killed by a bull in the barnyard. At least two other non-fatal injuries by bulls occurred last year.
Whether handling livestock, working with grain bins, operating equipment or handling chemicals, farming is an inherently dangerous occupation. The National Farmers Union has several short videos available on common farm safety topics. The New York Center for Agriculture, Medicine and Health (NYCAMH) also offers videos, provides safety training and has numerous brochures on safety topics.
It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve done it before, it’s never a bad idea to review farm safety procedures regularly and implement strategies to prevent an injury or fatality from occurring on your farm. Take steps to do so now for a safe and productive 2019 season.