As the fall harvest season progresses, two recent fatalities in Iowa have prompted a University of Iowa College of Public Health program to issue a hazard alert warning farmers and tractor operators about the risk of being run over when starting tractors from a standing position on the ground.
The Iowa Fatality Assessment Control and Evaluation (Iowa FACE) program is gathering information regarding fatal workplace injuries that occurred near Spencer, Iowa, in September, and near Columbus Junction, Iowa, in October. Both incidents involved operators who started tractors while standing beside the tractor. Both tractors were in gear when the engine was started, and lurched into motion, running over the operators.
"We have noted two fatal injuries that occurred in a 5-week period, both resulting from the same dangerous practice," said John Lundell, Deputy Director of the Injury Prevention Research Center in the UI College of Public Health. "Farmers and other operators are at risk of being run over when they stand beside a tractor and start it, not realizing the tractor was left in gear. There is no way they can get out of the way fast enough when that tractor jolts into motion."
Risks for tractor runovers may be higher during harvest activities, when older or smaller tractors are put to use to power augers or grain-moving equipment, but fatalities have also occurred when operators or mechanics were doing maintenance on tractors, or operating equipment that needed starter or ignition repairs.
To help minimize the risks associated with tractor runovers, the Iowa FACE program reminds operators to start the tractor only while sitting in the operator seat, with the tractor in park or neutral, and the parking break set. The power take-off and clutch should be disengaged. Safety interlock features - which are present in newer model tractors and prevent the tractor from starting unless these conditions are met - should not be disabled or disconnected. Tractors should not be 'bypass started' – a term that refers to jump-starting or shorting across the starter terminals.
The Iowa FACE program is conducted by the Injury Prevention Research Center at the University of Iowa in conjunction with the Iowa Department of Public Health and its Office of the State Medical Examiner.