Hands-On with Tractor Operation and Safety

Empowerment can be an overused word, but last week I was able to witness this as I watched a group of women gain more confidence around agricultural machinery. Twenty-one women from eight eastern Ohio counties met for a Hands-On Tractor Night hosted at JD Equipment in Zanesville.

Dee Jepsen is the leader for The Ohio State University Agricultural Health and Safety Program.  You can learn more about the program at:  agsafety.osu.edu . Jepsen shared several statistics about agriculture, and specifically tractor safety, that may be surprising to you. From 2004-2013, the number of fatalities on Ohio farms is on the decrease. With the exception of 2010, fatalities have decreased each year since 2006. In 2006 there were 27 fatalities and only 11 in both 2012 and 2013. I say “only,” but I am sure that the families of those who died would see the statistics differently. There were a total of 168 deaths in that ten-year period. Even one is too many.

Most fatalities occurred within three months of the year: May, July and October. These are the three times during the year when tractors are used most often. May is planting season, July is small grain harvest and hay making, and October is harvest for corn and soybeans. Tractors, by far, cause the most fatalities on farms. Of the 168 deaths, 75 of them resulted from a tractor accident. And of the tractor accidents, 67% of them were from rollovers.

In eastern Ohio especially, the need to use Rollover Protective Structures (ROPS) correctly is critical. According to the Great Plains Center for Agricultural Health, 1 in 10 operators overturns a tractor in his or her lifetime, and 80% of them involve experienced operators. In order to use ROPS correctly, the operator must make sure that the ROPS bar is extended and secure. The other crucial piece of the formula is wearing a seat belt. This system of a ROPS and seat belt has never failed.

Jepsen also reminded the women that one seat means one rider. Typically those extra riders on tractors are children. The age distribution of fatalities shows that 29 young people between 1-20 years old were killed in farm accidents from 2004-2013. Those numbers drop for those between 21-40 years old, but then they begin to increase. There were 47 fatalities for people under 40 years old and also 47 deaths for 41-60 year olds. However, there were 67 fatalities for farmers over 61 years of age. As reaction times slow, accidents increase.

One final thought that Jepsen shared with the group is the “3 E’s.” These are education, engineering and enforcement. She applauded the women for educating themselves about tractors – from parts ID to operation to safety. Equipment manufacturers are constantly researching ways to engineer safety features for tractors to assist operators. Farming is exempt from many of the regulations that industries have, but enforcement does not just mean laws. Farm women often have a unique opportunity to encourage farm safety practices for both young and old on the family farm.

I was so pleased to work with JD Equipment in Zanesville for the program. Heather Dunmire, Alicia Shafer, and Christyn Kurt were all extremely knowledgeable and helpful for the women. Participants were challenged with identifying 20 parts of a tractor for their ice breaker activity as they arrived. Then they were given the opportunity to drive a zero turn mower and both remove and install a loader on a compact tractor.

Today I’ll leave you with this quote from Eleanor Evert, “For safety is not a gadget but a state of mind.”