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A Deep Dive Into OSHA Tractor Injury Investigations

Tractor Injuries on Agricultural FarmsTractor accidents are the leading cause of farm accidents and deaths on farms. Even when an employee survives the accident, they are left with serious injuries. The most common fatal injuries occur when the tractor rolls over and overturns.

Farm-related injuries can be devastating for both the affected employee and their family members. Even more tragically, tractor injuries tend to disproportionately affect younger workers.

Agricultural Workers Fatality Statistics

According to a study of tractor fatalities, a total of 1,533 people died in farm tractor incidents between 2003 and 2011. This is an average of over 150 people each year. Focusing only on fatalities does not cover the entire picture. There are estimates that four people are injured for every one that is killed in a tractor accident.

In 2017, there were 416 farm workers who were killed on the job at US farms. Transportation accidents, include tractor incidents, were the most common cause of death.

An Agricultural Tractor Must Have Safety Equipment

The truth is that most tractors do not have the necessary safety equipment to protect their operators. Rollover protective structures can help keep tractor operators safer, but almost half the tractors in the United States lack this equipment.

The most recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control show that only 62% of tractors in the country have a rollover protective structure.

Newer tractors built after 1976 must have this safety equipment, but not all older tractors are equipped with it. There are still many older tractors in use. Even if the tractor has these safety devices, they may not be equipped in accordance with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration rules.

Common Causes of Tractor Accidents

Overturns are only one cause of tractor accidents. Numerous other people can be injured or killed in tractor accidents. This includes the following:

  • Other employees or workers can be injured in a collision with a tractor.
  • Operators can get their hands or other body parts stuck in the moving machinery of the tractor.
  • Drivers can be injured when operating the tractor over uneven terrain or in bad weather.
  • People can be run over by a tractor that is not properly operated or is defective.

However, tractor overturns are still the most common cause of tractor-related deaths in the U.S. The Department of Labor estimates that 44% of tractor fatalities result from an overturned tractor. The second most common cause of death is entanglement with the tractor machinery.

Some aspects of tractor safety are incumbent on the operator. For example, they need to be careful not to operate the tractor on an embankment or near a ditch. They should also utilize protective equipment such as a seatbelt. These requirements are found in OSHA rules that dictate how the tractor is to be operated.

OSHA Rules for Tractor Safety

OSHA rules institute a number of safeguards that employers must follow when their employees use tractors on the job. The relevant section of OSHA rules that apply to tractor operation is found in 29 CFR 1928 Subpart D.

  • All tractors manufactured after 1967 must have a rollover protection system (ROPS). OSHA rules list a number of requirements for the ROPS in order to keep the driver safe from a rollover. 29 CFR 1928.51
  • Employers must have certain guards to protect employees from coming into contact with moving machinery parts of farm equipment. (29 CFR 1928, Subpart D)
  • Functional components of a tractor that can injure the driver or another person must be guarded to the fullest extent possible.
  • There are other federal government standards from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health that apply to the driving aspect of tractors. Employers should conduct driver’s license backgrounds checks and have various rules to ensure that the driver follows traffic rules and operates the motor vehicle safely. In addition, employers should have seat belt rules and should train drivers in vehicle safety.

OSHA Accident Investigations Reports

First, nearly all accident investigations performed by OSHA involved fatalities. This is not to say that every tractor accident results in a fatality. Some accidents are not reported to OSHA. However, the fact is that tractor accidents are extremely dangerous and have a very high fatality rate.

When searching the OSHA accident investigation database under the word “tractor,” (excluding tractor-trailers) most of the incidents involve fatal tractor accidents.

Another thing that we learn from looking at tractor accident investigation reports is that OSHA often does not fine the employer when the worker is injured or killed in a tractor rollover. In many of these reports, OSHA will note that the worker did something wrong such s misjudging the distance or the turn. OSHA is more likely to fine the employer when workers are crushed or run over by tractors.

Here are some of the descriptions of what happened in these accidents.

Penalty of $5,960 by the Van Nuys, CA Office (2019) – An employee was operating a truck at a horse farm when he was pinned between the right rear tire of the tractor and a metal pole. It is unclear how the incident occurred and how the driver could get pinned by the tractor.

Penalty of $32,400 by the San Diego, CA Office (2019) – A worker was operating a tractor, using it to plow a field. He parked the tractor on an incline to clean the mulcher. The tractor rolled backwards and dragged him across the field and was found unresponsive by a fellow employee.

Penalty of $30,690 by the Omaha, NE Office (2019) – An employee was attempting to use a tractor to haul a large rail car. Another employee was trying to stop the rail car using a chain. The chain pulled taut, causing the tractor to flip over. The driver of the tractor was crushed to death.

How a Tractor Accidents Law Firm Can Help

After a tractor accident, one will need to work with their personal injury lawyer to determine who is at fault for the injury. If the problem was employer negligence, the injured worker would need to proceed through a workers’ compensation claim unless there was gross negligence.

However, many tractor accident lawsuits are filed because there was something wrong with the tractor. Then, the plaintiff can file a product liability lawsuit against the tractor manufacturer.