By Taylor Knopf

As the air turns crisp, the leaves change. Pumpkin spice baked goods fill the shelves. Kids go back to school. And farmers take to the fields to harvest.

There are about 2 million people nationwide working in the agricultural industry full-time, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. In 2015, there were 401 farm work-related deaths. Every day around 100 agricultural workers experience a “lost-work-time injury,” according to NIOSH.

North Carolina has a large agricultural community of about 48,000 farm operations There have been at least six agricultural fatalities this year so far in the state, according to reports collected by the NC Agromedicine Institute at East Carolina University.

For example, in June a 61-year-old farmer from Liberty died after an SUV rear-ended his tractor. He was thrown onto the shoulder of U.S. 421 and the vehicle ended up on top of him, according to a report by The Courier-Tribune in Asheboro.

Just a few days later, a tractor and a semi-truck collided on U.S. 70 near New Bern. Fortunately, in this case, the truck driver walked away and the farmer was treated at the hospital for minor injuries, according to a report by The Sun Journal.

Slow moving vehicle

Corresponding with the harvest and the increased tractor traffic, this is National Farm Safety and Health Week; this year’s theme is “Putting Farm Safety Into Practice.”

Shoes tractor moving down a suburban street, followed by a sedan
Photo credit: Hans Deragon, Wikimedia Creative Commons

“This year’s theme is one that hits home and reminds us that it is everyone’s responsibility for safety both on the farm and the rural roadways of America,” reads a press release from the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety.

NIOSH reports that the majority of farmer fatalities are caused by transportation incidents, which include tractor rollovers. The best way to prevent rollovers is by installing a Roll-over protective structure (ROPS) on a tractor.

Motorists who are non-farm workers should take extra caution on country roads and look out for tractors creeping along the shoulder.

University of Missouri Extension health and safety specialist Karen Funkenbusch recommends keeping some distance and exercising patience. Farm equipment is loud and the driver often cannot hear approaching vehicles. Funkenbusch said to watch for hand signals from the farmers who often pull to the side to allow vehicles to pass.

She also recommends farmers consider the following tips when driving on a roadway:

  • Display a 12- to 14-foot red flag on a pole so the tractor can be seen even when hidden by a rise or curve in the roadway.
  • Stay to the right-hand side of the road as much as possible.
  • Avoid soft or steep road shoulders, which could cause the tractor to tip.
  • Take extra precautions when driving in the early morning or early evening hours.
  • Use hand signals, electronic signals or both to indicate intentions to turn. Avoid wide turns.
  • Turn your headlights on, but turn off rear spotlights, which can be mistaken for headlights.
  • Avoid roads during rush hour, bad weather and at night.
  • Use pilot cars if going a great distance.

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Taylor Knopf writes about mental health, including addiction and harm reduction. She lives in Raleigh and previously wrote for The News & Observer. Knopf has a bachelor's degree in sociology with a...