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Tractors pose greatest hazards on farm

Posted on September 24, 2014 at 8:00 AM by Iowa Corn

Courtesy Iowa Farmer Today
Chuck Schwab says tractors and other machinery pose
the biggest hazard on the farm, especially with harvest
season approaching.
There is something almost serene about a tractor kicking up dust on a gravel road in the fall, surrounded by crops to the side and blue sky above.

However, that tractor and others like it account for more fatalities than any other farm hazard, says LaMar Grafft.

“By far, the lives of more farmers are lost on tractors, and particularly those without rollover protection,” says Grafft, associate director of the North Carolina Agromedical Institute and a former Iowa farmer.

“There are always going to be tractor rollovers, and without ROPS (rollover protection structure), the risk is even greater.”

So, what are the top-five farm hazards?

Grafft compiled a list that also included ATVs, machinery shield issues, poor electrical work and skin cancer risk.


Of the five on the list, he says tractors pose the greatest hazard on the farm. As harvest nears, Grafft says more tractors, wagons and combines will dot the landscape, increasing the risk of injury.

“We still have a lot of older tractors being used out there, and there is always some risk with them,” he says. “Twenty to 25 percent of tractor fatalities are related to a lack of ROPS.

“But, that also means the rest occur in other ways. We just have to make sure we are very careful when climbing onto that tractor.”

Tractors also topped the list of Chuck Schwab, Iowa State University Extension ag engineer. The rest of his list included other machinery, working with animals, slips and falls, overhead power lines and road collisions.


“Tractors are really the top of the list for fatalities, and machinery for injuries,” Schwab says.

“You have the rollover concern and lack of ROPS with tractors, and a lot of different hazards when it comes to working with other machinery.”

Grafft says ATV-related fatalities continue to climb.

“Some of these are not farm-related, and that’s the only reason it isn’t No. 1 on the list,” he says. “We are seeing more and more usage, and we are going to have to come up with some way to protect the driver.”

Many farmers are injured when handling livestock, but Schwab says many of those injuries go unreported.

“The severity is not what you will see with tractors and machinery, but if you’re dealing with animals, you’re dealing with it every day,” he says. “That increases the risk of injury because of the higher level of exposure.”

Schwab says slips and falls often occur in feedlots or hog confinements, where surfaces often are wet.

“If you fall on a hard surface and hit your head, it can be fatal,” he says. “And, we’re coming into that season where farmers are going to be climbing into combines and tractors and other elevated areas, and we can have slippery surfaces.

“I know it’s not something you would think about, but make sure the soles of your shoes are in good shape — can help you avoid slipping.”

Grafft says most farms have shield issues with machinery, ranging from PTO shields to grain-handling equipment.

“You see this all the time, and it can increase the risk of an injury when working around this equipment,” he says. “The shields are there for a reason.”

Grafft and Schwab have concerns about electrical hazards. Grafft notes faulty wiring and circuits left unprotected, while Schwab says large equipment could potentially make contact with a power line.

“Those can be dangerous, especially in the fall when you are moving overhead augers and driving bigger combines,” Schwab says. “You have to be careful where you are going.”

Collisions between farm machinery and motorists are more frequent during harvest, he adds.

“You have a lot of odd-shaped things out on the road, such as combines and augers, and that can cause some problems,” Schwab says. “You have a lot of new drivers who have not driven around machinery as well.”

Grafft says more cases of skin cancer are being diagnosed in the farm community.

“You can’t talk to too many farmers who haven’t had some kind of issue with it,” he says.

“They don’t wear sunscreen or the floppy hats. We conducted a recent screening and ended up with several referrals to have things checked out. It’s a growing issue.”

Grafft added other hazards could emerge as machinery technology improves.

“Tractors and combines have guidance systems and better seats, so farmers are going to be spending more time on them, which we feel will result in more lower back issues,” he says.

“I think the amount of physical labor will also decrease, which leads to concerns, such as high blood pressure, diabetes and other personal health challenges.

“As farming becomes more and more automated, additional challenges are bound to emerge.”

Jeff DeYoung, Iowa Farmer Today

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