My morning routine usually involves first sitting down in my office with a coffee and scanning through emails, and then checking Twitter to see what, if any, interesting news is being talked about. Today I noticed two very interesting tweets almost one after the other. The contradiction between them was a bit jarring.
The first was an image of a farmer driving down a road looking at crops with a toddler on his lap steering the pickup. The second was an anniversary announcement by Volvo trucks celebrating 60 years since Nils Bohlin, an engineer at Volvo, invented the three-point seatbelt harness. A Volvo press release had this to say:
“Although the design was patented, the company decided the patent was to be left open, making it available to all vehicle manufacturers to use for free. This rather unconventional decision was made in the greater interest of public safety, to ensure that everyone, independently of whether they drove a Volvo or not, could be safer in traffic. This decision proved to be very beneficial to the world.
‘There is no safety system that comes even close to the seat belt in terms of saving lives, and the three-point safety belt has protected more people in traffic accidents than any other safety device,’ says Anna Wrige Berling (Volvo Trucks traffic and safety director).”
That announcement went on to lament the fact seatbelt use today is still far less than 100 per cent. Nowhere is that more true in Canada than in rural areas across the prairie, as that first tweet emphasized. There is a marked reduction in compliance rates on rural roads compared to urban areas.
A couple of years ago, I spent the day with Thea Green, an instructor at the U of M, and a group of her ag students who participated in a tractor safety day. The point of Green’s agenda was to get these future farmers thinking about safety.
Walk into any business in the city where there is moving equipment and you’ll need to wear a reflective vest, safety boots and glasses. I’ve yet to walk onto any Canadian farm and see anything close to that policy in place. Maybe that is part of the reason farming remains one of the most statistically dangerous occupations in this country, while work injury rates in other businesses have declined.
During harvest or seeding its common to see Twitter full of pictures of combine or tractor cabs full of young children. I remember a comment Green made on that tractor safety day, “The buddy seat in a tractor cab is not for babysitting”. But in practice, many are used for exactly that. It’s interesting to note that children are disproportionally represented in accidental farm death stats.
And very few producers seem to see the value in wearing a seatbelt in equipment cabs. The Volvo announcement said this about wearing seatbelts in heavy trucks:
“The Volvo Trucks Safety Report for 2017 showed that half of all truck drivers killed in traffic accidents would have survived if they had been wearing their seat belt,” explains Berling.
“So what are the reasons it’s not used? Some truck drivers mistakenly believe that there is no need for a belt in a truck, due to the size of the vehicle.
“’The facts are clear: Using the belt is very important also in trucks. For example, in rollover accidents, the belt can help protect the driver from being jammed between the truck and the ground,’ continues Anna Wrige Berlin.”
When it comes to tractors and other slower-moving machines, think about this from your high school physics class. Force = Mass x Velocity. If a 100-pound person is driving a tractor down the road at 20 m.p.h. and hits an obstruction. The force from just the tractor’s momentum means an unbelted operator will hit the steering column with a force of 2,000 pounds.
Is it time to review safety practices in and around equipment on your farm, or at least implement a mandatory seatbelt use policy in all vehicles and equipment? If you aren’t convinced, check out what happens in this simple roll over from a stopped position in a Volvo test as seen here