Even with a steady stream of new standards and regulations in both worker and work equipment safety, agriculture is still one of the most dangerous industries in the U.S. Some of the highest severity injuries can be blamed on riding farm equipment—tractors, ATVs, utility vehicles, and forklifts.
Orchards, groves, and nurseries need this type of farm equipment to operate productively, but your clients must pay constant attention to who’s driving them or working around them, how they’re used, and how they’re maintained in order to prevent catastrophic injuries or worse.
Foresight suggests discussing each of the points below with your Agribusiness and Farm Labor clients as you work together on their workers compensation program.
All-terrain vehicles (ATVs) and Utility Terrain Vehicles (UTVs) look like fun, until they’re not. While they perform some useful functions in farming operations, such as checking irrigation and hauling small loads, ATVs have become a source of serious and fatal injuries on farms.
An uptick in farm equipment fatalities and injuries caused by ATVs prompted a NIOSH study that identified 2,090 injuries and 321 fatalities in an eight-year span in the agriculture sector. Most were from rollovers, drivers being thrown from the vehicles, loss of control, or collisions, and most pointed back to inexperience drivers or failure to wear helmets or other protective equipment. “Knowing the center of gravity for each specific piece of equipment is important in case there is a rollover,” says Macias.
OSHA recommends employers only use ATVs that have:
Amazingly, one in ten tractor operators overturns a tractor in his or her lifetime. Tractor rollover deaths have gone down dramatically since OSHA started requiring rollover protective structures (ROPS) for agricultural tractors. But the type of low-profile tractors used in orchards, vineyards, or greenhouses, where vertical height would interfere with normal operations, are exempt from the ROPS standard.
Some safety tips to protect employees using tractors in orchards and vineyards include:
When forklifts are used outdoors on a farm, especially at a nursery or orchard with the public around, they bring a whole new set of risks beyond those commonly seen in warehouses or manufacturing facilities. Most accidents with forklifts in orchards and farms come from “backover” accidents and collisions between forklifts and pedestrians, usually because either the driver or the pedestrian wasn’t paying attention. To prevent these, OSHA recommends the following:
Another key piece of guidance, Macias says, “is to make sure you’re always using the right forklift for the job. Check the terrain in case you are using a forklift in the field or in a warehouse.” It’s critically important to use the forklift designed for where/how your client will use it.
No matter the vehicle, employers on any type of farm need to stay diligent in protecting employees from life-changing injuries or death. Proper training of operators, equipment inspection and maintenance, and using traffic management plans should apply to all vehicles used on a farm or nursery.
Another important but common sense reminder, Macias says, is to ensure all riders are using seat belts.
Sometimes trying to reduce one exposure to keep farm employees safe can increase another exposure. For example, now that farmers in regions where employees are prone to heat-related illnesses are conducting more work at night, they need to be aware of the vehicle hazards of working at night by utilizing adequate lighting and using reflective vests or other highly-visible PPE.
Keeping your farm clients and their workers safe as they do the critical work of growing America’s food is one of your top priorities—and it’s ours as well as ours. A safety-focused workers compensation provider like Foresight can help your clients prioritize safety and stay compliant with OSHA and industry benchmark standards. We recommend reviewing the points in this article annually or before seeking renewal quotes for each of your orchard, nursery, and grove accounts. Together, we can drive awareness around the many safety processes and procedures necessary for running a safe farm.