NIOSH Awards Groups $504,000 to Reduce Tractor Injuries and Death

A consortium of university-based agricultural safety and health research centers across the United States has been awarded $504,000 from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health to help launch a public health campaign for preventing deaths and injuries from tractor-related incidents.

The 2-year NIOSH grant also will allow the NIOSH-supported Centers for Agricultural Disease and Injury Research, Education and Prevention and the National Children's Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety to fill current gaps in their knowledge base and to explore new techniques to promote safer tractor use.

"We are pleased to support this initiative, which enables the centers to join in an unprecedented team effort on this compelling public health issue," said NIOSH Director John Howard, M.D. "Finding effective ways to promote tractor safety is a tremendous national challenge to which we and our partners are bringing new resources."

Tractor overturns, power takeoff (PTO) entanglements and collisions with non-farm vehicles on public roads are the leading cause of death and serious injury in U.S. agriculture, according to statistics gathered by the different research centers. On average, more than 250 farmers, family members and farm employees die annually in such incidents, half of them when a tractor overturns and crushes the operator.

Although no official statistics are available, University of Kentucky researchers estimate that 4.46 non-fatal injuries from overturns occur for every fatality. Often severe and disabling, the injuries also can be financially devastating, leading to immediate and long-term medical expenses and the loss of family farms when an owner or operator is incapacitated.

Technology such as rollover protective structures (ROPS) exist for preventing death and injury from overturns and have proven effective at virtually eliminating fatalities and serious injuries when worn with seatbelts, according to the centers' researchers. However, more than half of the approximately 4.7 million agricultural tractors in the United States lack ROPS. (See related article, "OSHA Releases Final Rule on Roll-Over Protective Structure Testing.")

"By 2007, building on the results of this effort, we will be in a good position to seek the involvement of all the stakeholders affected by tractor injuries and fatalities: farm and safety groups, equipment manufacturers and dealers and most importantly, farmers, ranchers and their families," said Steve Reynolds, Ph.D., CIH, and director of the High Plains Intermountain Center for Agricultural Health and Safety at Colorado State University, which will lead the initiative.

Under the newly funded initiative, the centers will:

  • Study the costs of injuries from farm tractor overturns and highway collisions and identify who bears those costs.
  • Assess the impact of changes in ROPS standards, regulations and technology and their effect on future ROPS availability.
  • Examine the acceptability of, and procedures for, financial incentives to retrofit tractors with ROPS.
  • Create a database of potential partners to help guide the planned national campaign and launch an intranet to facilitate communication about tractor safety among the centers.

The most ambitious of the projects, involving eight of the 10 centers, will test community-based social marketing in 36 venues across the United States. Social marketing seeks to influence behavior to benefit the intended audience.

"We are eager to see if we can use some of the techniques developed in the last few decades to 'sell' tractor operators on safer practices," Reynolds said. "Unless we can begin changing attitudes and behavior, we are not going to solve this problem."

Information about the centers is available at http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/agctrhom.html. The National Agricultural Tractor Safety Initiative document, produced by the centers in 2004, can be found at http://wwww.depts.washington.edu/pnash/tractor.html.

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