With Fall just around the corner, the agricultural industry is in full swing. Our hard-working farming neighbors are gearing up for harvest and preparing for the cold months to come. Most of these operations depend on young family members and young workers to stay afloat. Unfortunately, these young people are at a higher risk working in an agricultural setting than in almost any other industry.
According to a 2018 study conducted by the National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety, a child dies in an agriculture-related incident every three days. The leading sources of youth fatalities involve machinery (25%), motor vehicles (17%), and drownings (16%). The agricultural industry is especially harsh on young workers, accounting for almost half of all young worker fatalities and hundreds of injuries every year.
Tractor safety is especially important among young agricultural workers who may not fully appreciate hazards. Tractor deaths and injuries usually occur when the operator falls from the tractor after the tractor tips up or completely overturns. Injury and death caused by tractor falls could be minimized or eliminated if the tractor contained safety devices such as seatbelts, rollbars, deadman switches, and rotary mower guards. Yet, even after decades of research pointing to the necessity of these safety devices, manufacturers are still reluctant to incorporate and promote the use of these devices into their tractor designs.
Until 1985, seatbelts were not installed on tractors as standard equipment. In 1986, the National Safety Council found that less than one-third of tractors were equipped with seatbelts. Even today – almost 30 years after seatbelts became standard – tractor manufacturers are not promoting the use of seatbelts. Many tractor advertisements feature operators who are not using their seatbelts. Despite warnings on tractors suggesting use of seatbelts, operators primarily forego the use of seatbelts in favor of less restriction.
Due to minimal seatbelt usage, it is important that tractor manufacturers incorporate other safety devices, such as deadman switches and rotary mower guards to prevent injury in case of a fall. If an operator is not using a seatbelt, a deadman switch will cut off all power to the tractor once it senses that the operator has left the tractor seat. In addition, a rotary mower guard will minimize injuries from a tractor fall by protecting the occupant from being run over by the trailing mower. When a deadman switch is combined with a mower guard, the occupant is protected from being run over and from being dragged in front of the guard for an extended distance. This minimizes the chances of the occupant’s body coming into contact with the rotating mower blade.
Seatbelts alone are not sufficient in protecting tractor occupants from injury and death just as seatbelts alone are not sufficient in protecting car occupants from injury and death. The automobile industry recognizes that passive safety devices, such as airbags, are necessary to protect car occupants from foreseeable accidents because an active safety device, such as a seatbelt, is dependent on the occupant’s choice to utilize it.
Tractor manufacturers must also recognize the need for passive safety devices, such as deadman switches and rotary mower guards, that protect the occupant even if the occupant chooses not to protect himself by wearing a seatbelt.
The agricultural industry, and manufacturers, in particular, must step up to protect young agricultural workers who are less likely to realize the importance of using a seatbelt or abiding by safety rules. Beasley Allen lawyers have successfully handled many cases involving tractor defects. Contact Cole Portis, who heads up the firm’s Personal Injury & Products Liability Section for more information.
This story appears in the September 2020 issue of The Jere Beasley Report. For more like this, visit the Report online and subscribe.