Thursday, May 26

The deadly (and less known) balance of tractors: at least 880 deaths in accidents in a decade


Barely a week ago, with the front pages of the newspapers taken over by the political storm of Pegasus, the Russian attacks on Mariupol and the hangover from the French elections, a news story that passed without pain or glory, dispatched in a couple of lines: an accident with a deceased in San Sadurniño, a small town in A Coruña. The incident did not have too much mystery. In the afternoon the 112 delegation had received notice that a neighbor was trapped under his tractor. When emergencies arrived at the scene, he had already passed away.

No more. Or if?

The same day and almost 70 kilometers south of there, in Dodro, the 112 received another alert: a man had been hit in the leg while driving a vehicle. Which? A tractor. That same week another 66-year-old farmer also lost his life in El Frasno (Zaragoza) due to an accident with… Indeed, a tractor involved. Days before, the same thing had happened to a Galician octogenarian. The cause, again, a fatal accident while he was driving a farm vehicle.

They do not star in so many headlines, or campaigns, and of course their impact is not as devastating as that left by motorcycles or passenger cars, but tractors have their own mournful balance.

And it’s not exactly small.

What do the figures say? That few jokes with the tractors, basically. At the beginning of 2020, Mapfre published a study that makes it clear that, although they do not reach the same speeds or usually circulate in areas with so much traffic, reckless use of tractors can be as dangerous as that of a motorcycle, a car or a truck. To show a button. Or a fact, better: between 2010 and 2019 the insurer registered 880 deaths in accidents in which one of these vehicles for agricultural use was involved. The annual toll is around 90 deaths.

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They may seem few when compared to the 484 people who died last year in accidents with passenger cars, but the data is certainly conclusive compared to the national park of tractors: 1.14 million -1.42 if we count the power tillers- versus to 24.5 million cars. Especially in the areas of the country where most of the claims are recorded. In Galicia, for example, in August 2021 a dozen people had died in accidents with agricultural vehicles, which made them the second deadliest, only surpassed by cars. They add up to more than those killed on a motorcycle or even the victims of a hit-and-run.

90

A silent statistic. Tractors are not just a safety challenge. That the victims are often not professional farmers is also a challenge for analysts. As the Mapfre report points out, the National Institute for Safety and Health at Work (INSST) records all deaths in the workplace; but many of the victims who lose their lives at the controls of a tractor while working in the fields do not exactly fit their profile and end up being left out of those statistics. The reason: most are not salaried workers, but private individuals, often retired men over 65.

To show, once again, an illuminating piece of data: between 2010 and 2019, Mapfre technicians recorded 1,172 news about people who died in the countryside, a figure considerably higher than that collected in the records of the Ministry of Labor, which included only 473. The most alarming is that Mapfre itself recognizes that the real data could exceed that reflected in its news dossier, since the media do not always follow up on the victims. “The actual final figures are very likely to be even higher (the media do not usually report people who die as a result of injuries several days after the incident, for example),” he highlights.

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A well known problem. Getting an accurate statistical picture can be a challenge, but that hasn’t stopped us from getting a clear picture of how, when, where, and most importantly, who has the most tractor accidents. The profile is well defined. Mapfre data show that 54% of those who lost their lives over the past decade were over 60 years old – the average age was in fact 59.4 – and the vast majority were men.

“They are often retired people, self-employed workers or whose main activity is not the field and they use the tractor privately or for a second or third activity,” the report notes. The most favorable weather for work and the fact that there are also more daylight hours explains why the time of year with the highest agricultural accident rate is the spring and summer months.

How they are distributed geographically is not a surprise either: the communities of Castilla y León (210), Aragón (106), Andalucía (102), Cantabria (11) and Castilla La Mancha (69) stand out. If you go down to the provincial level, the portrait changes slightly. In this case, A Coruña stands out, where 60 deaths were registered in accidents with tractors, Lugo (50), Valencia (48) and Murcia (43).

Tony Pham T0bqg4pnudg Unsplash

Rollovers, the great threat. The profile is perfectly known… And the type of claims. Of the 88 fatalities recorded on average each year over the last decade in tractor accidents, the vast majority, 60, were caused by rollovers. “The main cause of overturning is the main cause of overturning, especially on paths and highways, although almost half of the overturns occur in agricultural plots, when carrying out transport tasks and with the trailer.

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Another key factor: working conditions. Rollovers are not the only factor that explains the high accident rate of tractors. Often the general picture is completed with other factors, key to understanding the problem: that the machinery is outdated and that whoever operates it does so recklessly. In 91% of the rollovers, the vehicles did not have a special protection structure or the driver had directly chosen to lower the safety arch.

The problem is not new, of course. In 2011 there were already some studies that indicated that a third of the Galician mobile fleet was over two decades old, which, at least then, left them outside the safety requirements for larger vehicles.

As he points to Nius Diary José Manuel Ponte, from Unións Agrarias, often the conditions in which the machinery is handled add more probabilities for a fatal outcome: “Many are already retired and work with very old machinery that cannot be renewed. The vast majority work alone on their farms; if they suffer an accident there is no one to help them”.

Images | Walter Sturn (Unsplash), Mapfre and Tony Pham (Unsplash)

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