Case Study: Lone Worker Dies after Fall from ATV

oday I’d like to present a case study involving a lone worker and a fall from an ATV.  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 this case to take a look at ATV safety and some of the dangers of working alone on the farm.

The Situation: A 53 year old gamekeeper severely injured his pelvis by falling from an ATV. He survived the initial injury, but was unable to call for help. It took 52 hours for someone to notice that he was missing, and he was found dead 200 yards from the scene of the initial injury.(click here to see original case description)

Risks Involved:  ATV Operation, working alone, lack of communication device/check in plan.

Risk Mitigation Strategies:  There are two main issues involved here, which are the risks of operating an ATV and the risks of working alone.  Since this was a fatal case, they weren’t able to provide much of a description of what caused the initial injury. There are a lot of things that can contribute to ATV injuries: terrain, excessive speed, improper loading, mechanical issues, training issues etc. I found an article by OSHA that summarizes some of the main hazards of ATV use and how to avoid them. Click here to see it.

The other, and in this case possibly the greater issue is that he was working alone in an isolated area, had no way to call for help, and there was no check in plan to prompt a search when he didn’t come back. This incident took place in 2004, so cellphones weren’t as universal as they are now.  However having a cell phone doesn’t guarantee you’ll be able to call for help. Phone issues like low battery or poor signal can prevent you from making a call and if your phone breaks or if you’re unconscious as a result of the incident you won’t be able to call either.  That’s why the most important thing you can do is to avoid working alone whenever possible, and if you do work alone, let someone know where you’ll be and what time you expect to be back.  There are also a quite a few smartphone apps that can help protect lone workers. The systems use GPS to keep track of worker locations and can set up an emergency call button on the users’ phones. Some of them can also be set up to prompt users to check in by pushing a button on their phone at certain times, and call for help if the button isn’t pushed. Click here to see the top 10 lone worker apps.

The bottom line:  If you own an ATV, make sure that you and anyone else who drives it knows and follows all safety procedures. Try to avoid working alone as much as possible.  If you do work alone, let someone know where you will be and when you expect to be back. Cell phones can be a useful tool when working alone, but they can fail so make sure they’re not your only line of protection.