The farm is one of the most hazardous workplaces in America. The accidental death rate in farming -- 48 for every 100,000 workers -- is the highest of all industries. This year an estimated 1,500 people, including 300 youngsters, will die in farming accidents. Harvest time is the bloodiest season.
Equipment accidents are the leading cause of injury and death on the farm, but manufacturers have been slow to provide needed safeguards. When machinery guarding is provided, it may not be designed to last as long as the equipment it guards.
One of the most dangerous pieces of equipment is the power take-off (PTO) shaft or drive line. It looks like a harmless pipe which connects any number of farm implements to the rear of the tractor. When the engine of the tractor turns this steel shaft, it causes the implement connected to the shaft to operate.
The problem with this rotating shaft is that it can easily catch a person's clothing and pull them into it. Any protrusion or rough surface -- bolts, nicks, rust, even dried mud -- on this revolving pipe can snag clothing or hair and cause a devastating injury or death. Studies show that this is one of the most common causes of traumatic amputations on farms.
This type of accident happens more often in the fall and winter when people are wearing more clothing. As with one of our clients, these accidents often involve a youngster or passing friend who stops to help a farmer position or adjust an implement being operated behind the tractor. Our client lost his arm when a small bolt on this shaft caught his high school letter jacket. He was standing behind a tractor helping position a post hole digger.
Voluntary safety standards have for decades called upon farm implement manufacturers to guard or shield PTO shafts or drive lines. It was only in the late 1970's, with the development of product safety laws, that it became customary for manufacturers to guard this area. Unfortunately, many older tractors and farm implements still used on family farms do not have the necessary guards.
Although the equipment was almost 20 years old, our client was able to prevail against the post hole digger manufacturer. We were able to prove that a reasonable manufacturer would have guarded this equipment back when it was originally sold. Our client used his settlement to buy his own farm.