GAINESVILLE - Florida agriculture is dangerous, but buckling up andretrofitting older tractors with roll bars can go a long way toward makingit safer.
That's the conclusion of safety experts at the University of Florida and theUniversity of South Florida involved in a new study of deaths on Florida'sfarms and ranches over 10 years.
A total of 211 adults and 20 children died in Florida agriculture from 1989to 1998, according to the study, the first ever conducted on deaths at farmsand ranches across the state.
At least 74 of the deaths among adults involved machinery, includingtractors overturning and crushing their drivers, according to the studyconducted by USF's Karen Liller for the Deep South Center for AgriculturalHealth and Safety.
Liller calls this a preliminary finding because she still is deciding how tocategorize deaths in which tractors fell into water and the drivers drowned.Adding in these drownings would increase deaths involving tractors andmachinery.
For children, the top cause of death was falling off equipment or becomingentangled in it, accounting for five of the 20 deaths.
"It's tempting for a farmer to let his kids ride with him, but you neverknow when your son or daughter is going to slip and fall under the wheel ofyour tractor or get caught in your mower," said Carol Lehtola, agriculturalsafety specialist with UF's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
"As for tractor overturns, equipment is available to protect against them,but many older tractors aren't equipped with it," Lehtola said. The piecesof equipment that make tractors safer are seat belts and roll-overprotective structures, or ROPS - metal structures that resemble roll bars inrace cars.
"Tractor accidents occur at low speeds, and people generally get killed andinjured from tractors falling on them," Lehtola said. "ROPS provide a zoneof safety, and seat belts hold drivers in the zone. Together, they canprevent 99 percent of deaths from tractor overturns."
Manufacturers have voluntarily installed ROPS and seat belts since 1985, butfarmers and ranchers still are using many tractors built before then.
"ROPS are built so they can be folded down to clear tight spots, and farmersand ranchers sometimes leave them down or don't buckle their seat belts,"Lehtola said. "You never know when using the protection you have can saveyour life.
"Even though tractors can be retrofitted with ROPS and seat belts, manyfarmers and ranchers don't bother," Lehtola said. "There's a tendency tothink that something is going to happen to the other guy.
"In fact, agricultural land is rugged, with lots of ditches, gullies anddepressions, and tractors can tip over easily," she said.
Liller conducted the study using data from the Injury Prevention Program ofthe Florida Bureau of Emergency Medical Services. She's expanding herresearch by examining the causes of agricultural injuries. "It's importantto do this work because we can't plan effective injury prevention programsuntil we know how people are getting hurt and killed," she said.
Liller and Lehtola are developing safety programs for the new agriculturalsafety center, which the National Institute for Occupational Safety andHealth created this year. The center serves Florida, Alabama and Mississippi.
The center's safety efforts include developing a state chapter of "FarmSafety 4 Just Kids," a national organization founded by an Iowa mother whoseson was killed when he became trapped in a grain wagon.
In addition, UF's Cooperative Extension Service helps run farm safety daycamps, co-sponsored by Progressive Farmer magazine. More than 1,200 childrenand their parents across the state have participated.
Lehtola also serves as a primary adviser for the North American Guidelinesfor Children's Agricultural Tasks Project, which this month publishedbooklets that help parents match their sons' and daughters' abilities withrequirements of agricultural jobs.
"Kids often aren't mature enough or coordinated enough to drive tractors,hitch equipment and care for livestock, and the guidelines help parentsunderstand what's reasonable," Lehtola said.
"A classic scene of American nostalgia is a farm child riding a tractor inan open field. The reality is he or she can fall off and get killed."
More information on agricultural safety is available at the Web site of theFlorida AgSafe Network: http://agen.ufl.edu/~clehtola/agsaferef.htm
Materials provided by University Of Florida's Institute Of Food And Agricultural Sciences. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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