Was it an Accident or Incident? (News Release)

  • Prather, Timothy G.

Was the tractor overturn an accident? What about the entanglement in an unguarded PTO shaft? while obviously not intentional, they may not have been accidents in the truest sense.

By definition, an accident is unforeseen or unpredictable. It is something over which you have no control, and therefore it is unavoidable. An incident is simply an event or occurrence, whether it is predictable or not.

Was the death from a tractor overturn predictable? Probably. We know the causes of tractor overturn and how to prevent them. Preventive measures include proper wheel spacing, proper ballasting, proper hitching, keeping the center of gravity low, maintaining a safe speed for operating conditions, using the brakes properly, avoiding steep slopes and avoiding holes or obstacles. We also know that fatalities from overturns are virtually eliminated when operators are protected by a roll-over protective structure (ROPS) and safety belt. While the fatal tractor overturn certainly was not intentional, it was probably avoidable and certainly survivable. It was an incident, not an accident.

Guards and shields are for operator protection. If damaged or missing, the risk of entanglement increases significantly. Operators are also cautioned to keep away from moving parts. Guards don't just happen to be missing - someone takes them off. The operator can choose not to work near the moving parts, guarded or not. While not intentional, PTO entanglements are predictable and avoidable. The case is an incident, not an accident.

What about being struck by lightning? If you seek shelter in a safe location and away from windows, wiring, plumbing and the phone, being struck would be an accident. Staying out in a thunderstorm would be a risk you have control over, so being struck while playing golf in a storm would be an incident.

Each of us must be aware of the risks we face, regardless of the activity we are participating in. Here are some suggestions:

Learn to operate and maintain machinery properly for maximum productivity and safety. Know its intended uses and limitations. Don't take chances.

Know your limits. Don't try to keep going when fatigued or distracted. A good night's sleep is less costly than applying pesticides improperly or damaging equipment.

Act defensively to protect yourself from others, as when driving on the highway. Make sure you don't endanger others by taking unnecessary risks or operating equipment in an unsafe manner.

Agriculture should not be the most dangerous occupation in the US. Other industries have reduced illness, injury and death rates through a combination of worker training and maintaining safe working conditions. Besides preventing pain and suffering, you can increase your profits by reducing medical expenses, lost time, lost production, repair costs and insurance premiums. Estimates place the costs of farm work-related deaths and injuries in Tennessee over $140 million each year, which is over 8.5 percent of Tennessee's gross farm receipts. What are your losses?

Safety is no accident. It is a responsibility and a way of life.

This news release was distributed by the University of Tennessee Agricultural Extension Service, Knoxville, Tennessee 37901. Publication date: May 1993.

Timothy G. Prather, Agricultural Safety Specialist, Agricultural Engineering Department, University of Tennessee Agricultural Extension Service, Knoxville, Tennessee 37901.

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