Revised July 2007
Marjorie R. Margentino, Former Program Associate in Animal Science; Karyn Malinowski, Ph.D., Director of the Equine Science Center; Sara R. Malone, Department of Animal Sciences
 

Farming is one of the most dangerous occupations in the United States. Mechanical, chemical and environmental hazards put agricultural workers at risk for accidents. Over 700 farmers die in work-related accidents yearly. Many of these deaths are due to tractor roll-over and mishaps with other machinery.

Machinery such as tractors and power tools, pose the greatest injury risk on the farm. Nationwide in 1997 there were 705 deaths and over 50,000 disabling injuries in agricultural operations. It is important to be safety-conscious when dealing with any job that requires the use of machinery. Statistics show that the majority of machinery-related accidents occur as the result of human negligence. Errors include taking shortcuts to save time, failure to read the operator’s manual, ignoring a warning, improper or lack of instruction and failure to follow safety rules.

The most commonly utilized pieces of equipment around the farm are tractors, trucks, wagons, mowers, spreaders, grinders, blowers, augers, post hole diggers, shredders, balers, rakes, combines, and all-terrain vehicles (ATVs). No matter how different they are in structure, they all, if used improperly or carelessly, can be fatal. Fifty percent of total farm fatalities involve tractors and 14% are machinery related. A breakdown of the machinery related fatalities is as follows: 34% corn pickers, 11% silage handling, 11% hay baling, 11% manure handling, and 33% other miscellaneous farm machinery.

Safety statistics show that the majority of farm-related injuries occur between 10 a.m. and noon, with the period between 3 and 5 p.m. second highest4. It has been established that these time periods are when fatigue is most likely to occur, and concentration is not as sharp. It is a good practice to take periodic breaks to lessen fatigue. Climbing down off the tractor and walking around for a couple of minutes will help relieve stress and boredom.

Children have the highest rate of machinery-related injuries and fatalities. The 2001 Childhood Agricultural Injury Survey reported 22,648 non-fatal injuries to children under the age of 20. Sixty percent of the victims were male, and seventy-four percent of those children lived on the farm. The highest rates of injury were seen between the ages of 10 and 15. The majority of the injuries were on livestock farms. Horse-related accidents accounted for 2,388 of the injuries, 11,430 of the injuries were on livestock farms and 5,421 were on crop farms. The majority of child deaths occurred when children were extra passengers on machinery and were run over. The most common injuries in children involving equipment include: corn or grain augers, tractors, ATVs, power take-offs, belt or chain attachments, hay balers, and pitchforks. Thirty-one percent of all youth living and working on a farm had operated an ATV in 2001, and ATV-related injuries accounted for 10% of the non-fatal injuries of children under 20. Because of the seriousness of machinery-related accidents, many injuries result in permanent disabilities such as the loss of an arm, leg, fingers, toes, or a decreased range of motion. More than three-quarters require surgery or antibiotic treatment for bacterial infection or both5.

Workers over the age of 65 do not have an excessive number of injuries, but the likelihood of an injury being fatal is the greatest. Between 1985 and 1989, 50% of total farm fatalities involved children under the age of 14 and workers over the age of 65. In the over 65 age group, two-thirds of the fatalities were tractor-related.

Machinery and Equipment Storage Buildings

There are numerous precautions that should be observed when storing machinery on the farm. They include:

  • Buildings where machinery and power tools are stored should be located far enough away from structures that house livestock and hay in case of fire.
  • Fuel storage tanks should preferably be located below ground, and a minimum of 40 feet from the nearest structure. (See Rutgers Cooperative Extension Fact Sheet #522, “Underground Storage Tanks”). Fuel cannot be stored in the same structure as machinery or power tools. Tanks should be properly vented. If above ground, the area around the tank should be free of litter, weeds and any fuel spills that could aid in starting or accelerating the spread of a fire. Fuel tanks should be adequately protected from being struck by machinery. An approved 10 B:C fire extinguisher should be located near all fuel pumps and tanks.
  • Electrical lines coming into the building should be high enough to allow equipment to pass underneath.
  • Electrical systems in machine sheds should be sufficient for the power tools and equipment that will require the use of electric current.
  • Electric outlets should be of the three-prong grounded type.
  • Machinery storage buildings should not be used to store debris.
  • Doors on machine sheds should be wide enough for machinery to safely pass through without being caught. Doors also need to pull or slide open and close freely in case of an emergency.
  • Exits should be clearly marked.
  • Doors should be lockable to keep out children and unwanted visitors.
  • Floor surfaces should be level and smooth, free of bumps and protruding rocks.
  • Equipment should be parked so there is enough space for a person to walk completely around it.
  • Buildings should have adequate ventilation for the starting or running of an engine within the structure. Engines should not be left running inside a building for a prolonged period of time unless the exhaust is properly vented.
  • All tools and accessory equipment should be kept picked up and stored in their proper place, e.g., air hoses, oil cans, spare tires, jacks.
  • Keys should always be removed from all equipment or machinery to prevent children or unauthorized people from starting them.
  • Do not allow non-employees inside the machine shed. Children should never be allowed to play around or inside the machine shed or on farm machinery itself.

References:

  1. National Agricultural Statistics Service. 2004. The 2001 Report on Adult Agricultural – Related Injuries.
  2. National Agricultural Statistics Service. 2004. The 2001 Report on Childhood Agricultural – Related Injuries.
  3. National Institute for Farm Safety. 2004. A comparison of injuries among youth living on farms in the U.S. from 1998 – 2001. K. Hendricks, L. Layne, E.M. Goldcamp and J. Myers.
  4. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. 2001. Non-fatal All-Terrain Vehicle Injuries to Youth on Farms in the U.S. M. Goldcamp, J. Myers, K. Hendricks and L. Layne.
  5. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. 1995. Injuries among Farm Workers in the United States.
  6. National Safety Council. 2005. The Plain Facts about the Agricultural Industry.
  7. U.S. Department of Labor. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
  8. United States Department of Agriculture. 2002. Economic Research Service Briefing Room. http://www.ers.usda.gov/briefing/FarmLabor/farmsafety/.

This publication was made possible in part by a grant from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Program on Agricultural Health Promotion Systems for New Jersey.

© 2007 by Rutgers Cooperative Extension, NJAES, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.