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Farm-Tractor Associated Deaths -- Georgia

From 1971 to 1981, a study to characterize Georgia deaths associated with farm-tractor accidents was undertaken as a basis for developing preventive recommendations. For each death certificate listing a farm-tractor accident as the cause or contributing cause of death, information was abstracted concerning the characteristics of the victim and the accident.

Two hundred two tractor-associated fatalities occurred in Georgia during the study period; 198 (98%) of the victims were male; 166 (82%) were white, and 30 (15%) were black. Accidents occurred during all months--but predominantly in March, April, July, and August--and throughout the day, with a peak between 4 and 5 p.m. All deaths involved persons living in rural areas. Accidents occurred in 103 of Georgia's 159 counties, but were concentrated in the mountainous and hilly northern counties (Figure 1). Most accidents happened on farms; 18 occurred on roads.

The majority of deaths occurred among older men. Data from the U.S. Census and the Department of Agriculture permitted estimation of fatality rates for Georgia males. Based on figures for the subpopulation of male farm residents, the crude annual fatality rate was 23.6/100,000 (Table 1). Farming was listed as the primary occupation for 82 persons; other listings included construction, manufacturing, common laborer, military, sales, mechanic, student, and retired.

A variety of events resulted in fatal injury: 153 persons (76%) were fatally injured when the tractors overturned; 28 were run over; and six drowned when their tractors fell into a stream or lake. Eighty-three percent of fatalities were attributed to crushing chest injury; other causes of death were external hemorrhage, strangulation or asphyxia, and drowning. Reported by JD Smith, DL Rogers, RK Sikes, DVM, State Epidemiologist, Georgia Dept of Human Resources; Div of Field Svcs, Epidemiology Program Office, CDC.

Editorial Note

Editorial Note: This study suggests that farm-tractor associated deaths are more likely to occur during the planting and harvesting seasons and during late afternoon hours, that accidents are more prevalent in north Georgia, and that older males are the most common victims. Although the total number of persons using tractors on farms is unknown, the higher incidence in north Georgia may result from an increased likelihood of tractors overturning on hilly terrain, and the higher fatality rates among older men may be due to physiologic impairment or other age-related factors. A preliminary review of 16 fatal farm-tractor accidents in 1982 indicates that most accidents involved tractors over 10 years old with small horsepower (20-40 hp) that were not equipped with roll-over protection structures.

The large proportion of fatalities associated with rollovers implies the need for improved measures to protect the users when tractors overturn. Such measures are commercially available and include different types of roll bars or protective cabs; however, current safety standards require the use of roll-over protection structures only in limited circumstances and do not apply to farm owners or their families. The increased risk of fatality among older men may indicate that educational efforts can be directed at specific groups. Deaths represent the most extreme consequence of tractor accidents, and a much greater number of serious and disabling injuries probably occur. Improved use of protective measures should prevent both morbidity and mortality due to farm accidents.

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