Case Study from the UK: Fall from a Loader Bucket

Today I’d like to present a case study involving a fall from a loader bucket.  The case comes from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), an independent organization that promotes worker safety in the United Kingdom. Their website includes a few dozen agricultural injury case studies (click here to see their ag case studies).  I chose to take a closer look at the case involving a fall from a loader bucket because problems with overhead piping, heating, and lighting systems seem to be more common in winter, and because I’ve seen at least one near-fall in a similar situation.

The Situation: A farmer was standing in the bucket of a loader tractor performing an overhead pipe repair. The bucket of the loader was about 6 1/2 feet in the air. The pipe slipped and fell on one of the loader’s levers, tipping the bucket. The farmer fell and hit his head on a pallet, resulting in head injuries. (click here to see original case)

Risks Involved:  Elevated workspace, improper work platform,  no guards or railings on work platform, controls of platform underneath work area,

Risk Mitigation Strategies:  The key issue here is that a loader bucket isn’t a good work platform.  It lacks railings, the surface is often slick and slanted, the controls are at a distance from the person in the bucket, and the controls are vulnerable to falling objects as seen in this case.  There are a variety of work platforms that would have been appropriate for this situation, especially since the height requirement was only about 6 feet.  The original analysis of the case study recommends a platform fitted to a vertical mast forklift or on a boom (like a cherry picker) but  I think a portable scaffold would work just as well and would be much less expensive.  Depending on the tools and space needed to fix the pipe, a warehouse ladder/rolling staircase or traditional ladder might also have worked.   The key is to choose a work platform with a clean level working surface that has enough space for you and your tools,  and making sure that the platform can’t move while you are working.  A platform with a railing is ideal because even if a slip or fall occurs, it is less likely that you will fall to a lower level.

The bottom line: Elevated work is a regular occurrence on the farm.  Adjustable height rolling scaffolds, rolling staircases, and safer ladders have come down in price (many are under $200) and a wide variety of designs are available to suit different needs. The materials have improved considerably too, so many of the new designs are lighter, stronger, and longer-lasting than the wooden versions you may be familiar with. Thinking about the kinds of elevated work you do and investing in an elevated work platform that fits your needs could save you from having to deal with an injury later on.

Video: Rollover Protection and Seat Belts

Today I’d like to share a video of a demo created by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture’s Farm and Home Safety Program that demonstrates why seat belts and rollover protection structures(ROPS) are needed to protect the driver during a rollover. Tractor rollover is still the leading cause of occupational fatalities for farmers. The number of tractors with ROPS has increased substantially because ROPS have been required on new tractors since 1985, but the rate of rollover fatalities has not decreased significantly.  Part of the reason they haven’t decreased is that farmers either aren’t using ROPS or because they’re not using seat belts to keep them within the protected area. This demo shows a tractor without a cab, but a seat belt is necessary for cab-type ROPS to be effective too because it’s possible to be ejected from the cab (especially if the windows are open or break during a rollover) and to be seriously injured if you’re not secure within the cab. A 2002 study published in the Journal of Agricultural Safety and Health (JASH) found that of 19 cases of tractor rollover where the operator was using ROPS and a seat belt, 18 escaped with no injuries or minor injuries and 1  received outpatient care. Of the 41 cases of rollover with ROPS and no seatbelt, 12   operators required outpatient care or were hospitalized.  (Source).

Another thing that this video shows is that wearing a seatbelt on a tractor without ROPS may increase the risk of serious injury because it holds the operator in the crush zone. The same JASH study found that two of the three operators who were wearing seat belts on tractors without ROPS during a rollover suffered a permanent disability.  Out of 442 cases of rollover with no ROPS and no seatbelt, 203 operators suffered an injury requiring medical treatment,  including 12 cases resulting in disability and 24 deaths.  Having ROPS is by far safer than going without, but be aware that using a seat belt on a tractor without ROPS might further increase the risk of serious injury.

In short, wearing a seat belt and having ROPS installed drastically reduces your risk of being seriously or fatally injured on the farm. Many of us already have tractors with ROPS, so from there wearing a seat belt is a small change that drastically reduces your risk.

Have a tractor without ROPS? Check out the National ROPS Rebate Program here: Link to Natonal ROPS Rebate Program

Here is a link to another summary article by the University of Illinois Extension Program about ROPS and preventing rollovers: Link to Illinois Extension ROPS/Rollover prevention article