October 15, 2011
Recent tractor deaths underscore hazard
3 people have been killed in tractor accidents in the county in the past 2 months
Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
A tractor makes its way in May 2010 across a field at Sunset Young Farm on Route 281 in East Homer. Tractor-related accidents on farms are the leading cause of death in agriculture. A Cincinnatus farmer was killed this week in Willet after his tractor rolled over him.
The death of a farmer Wednesday in Willet highlights the fact that farming remains one of the most dangerous professions in the country.
On average, there are around 450 farming deaths nationwide each year, or about 28 for every 100,000 workers.
Farmers are injured in falls or by farm animals, overcome by gas from manure pits, get trapped in grain bins or caught in machinery.
The No. 1 killer though is often one of the most important pieces of equipment a farmer can own — tractors.
Tractors account for almost half of all farm fatalities, and each year dozens of tractors roll over or overturn.
There have been three tractor-related deaths in recent months in Cortland County.
A Cincinnatus farmer was killed Wednesday when his tractor ran him over while he was baling hay. Last month, a husband and wife were killed in Lapeer when their tractor fell backward on them while they were crossing a creek bed.
Protecting farmers is about education and safe workplace practices, said Rebecca Ireland-Perry, the community educator for the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Cortland County. She teaches a tractor safety course as part of an overall safety course for young farmers in the 4-H program.
“We really try to educate the younger generation,” she said.
Sometimes though, older farmers are stuck in their ways and are not willing to change.
“There are farmers who’ve been farming 40, 50 years and they say, ‘Well I’ve always done it this way and I haven’t had an accident yet,’” she said.
There are no precise numbers available on the number of farm injuries or accidents in the county, but the county averages anywhere from two to 14 farm accidents each year, according the National Education Center for Agriculture Safety.
Some tractor deaths are preventable, if a tractor has a Roll-Over Protective Structure, or ROPS, said the center’s director, Dan Neenan.
The structure is a cab or roll bar that goes over the tractor’s seat. It is designed to support the weight of the tractor through three rollovers. If used with a seat belt, it can prevent almost all tractor fatalities, Neenan said.
The problem is, tractor manufacturers were not required to provide them until 1985, and many older tractors do not have them.
The structures can cost anywhere from $750 to $1,500 each. They are well worth the money though, Neenan said.
“Think of it as a return on your investment,” he said. “If you’re in a roll-over, you’re likely going to be airlifted to a trauma center and that alone costs $20,000.”
The cost of retrofitting an older tractor with a ROPS can be offset with a special rebate offered by the New York Center for Agricultural Medicine and Health, a nonprofit organization in Cooperstown.
The rebates are aimed at farmers who are interested in a ROPS but do not think they can afford one, said Jim Carrabba, the agricultural safety and education coordinator for the center.
“There are about 140,000 tractors in New York and probably half of them don’t have one,” Carrabba said. “It would cut fatalities in half.”
The rebates cover up to 70 percent or $756 of the structure’s cost.
The center also does free safety training and a free safety assessment of any farm that requests one.
Local dairy farmers John and Tracey Evanick own Pine Hollow Farm in Virgil. Three years ago they decided to buy a protective structure through the rebate program, Tracey said.
“My husband was operating the tractor and he was getting on in his years,” she said. “We got the ROPS as a safety measure.”
Paul Fouts, president of the Cortland Farm Bureau and owner of Fouts Farms, bought all of his tractors with cabs already on them. As more older tractors are retired, the number of accidents should decrease, he said.
“Hopefully it’ll become less of an issue,” he said.
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