Tractors revolutionized how farmers worked their land, but they sometimes came with a deadly price.
A quote from a 2014 article by Jesse Hirsch in Modern Farmer summed up the problem.
“Back 100 years ago, the most you had to worry about was getting jabbed by a pitchfork, maybe run over by your horses,” says Clay County farmer Lyle Kenobbie. “There’s less to hurt you when everything’s done by hand.”
According to various sources, deaths from tractor accidents, mainly rollovers, continue to rate as one of the top causes of farm fatalities both in the United States and elsewhere even today.
In 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 417 farmers and farm workers died from work-related injuries, resulting in a fatality rate of 21.4 deaths per 100,000 workers.
“Transportation incidents, which include tractor overturns, were the leading cause of death for these farmers and farm workers,” the report said.
Another source, the Farm Injury Resource Center, reported that farm tractors accounted for the deaths of 2,165 farm workers between 1992 and 2001.
“The 2010 U.S. Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries found that the largest net increase in fatal work injuries involved drivers of tractor trailers or other heavy trucks — a 6% rise from 577 to 610 cases annually,” the website reported.
The most common type of tractor accident was rollovers, with the U.S. Department of Labor reporting that 44% of farm accidents were due to machines flipping over.
As Hirsch wrote in 2014, “farms have always been hard, physically demanding workplaces, but safety concerns evolved in the early 20th century, when tractors began replacing horses as the go-to farmer’s aid. These gas-powered beauties forever reshaped the face of agriculture; they also ushered in an era of mechanized danger and death.”
As of five years ago, he wrote, “tractors now claim some 125 lives a year in the U.S., according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, representing the biggest danger on a farm.”
The problem isn’t new by any means.
A 1998 article in the Journal of Agriculture Safety and Health by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, noted that “farm tractors have historically been identified as the leading source of work-related farming deaths in the U.S.
“While data from the National Safety Council show that tractor-related deaths and fatality rates have decreased since 1969, current surveillance data indicate that an average of 218 farmers and farmworkers die annually from tractor-related injuries.”
The article went on to say, while rollover protective structures have been identified as the single best method of preventing tractor overturn-related deaths, as of 1993 only 38 percent of all tractors used on U.S. farms were equipped with rollover cages.
“A major issue associated with increasing the use of ROPS on farm tractors is the cost of retrofitting ROPS on older tractors,” the article stated. “The average cost to retrofit tractors with ROPS in the U.S. was estimated at $937 (apiece), (at) a cost of at least $4 billion nationally in 1993.”