Some workplaces can be dangerous. In fact, more than 2 million people were injured or got sick in America, while on the job in the private sector in 2021. That’s why University of Florida researcher Serap Gorucu and her colleagues make it their mission to increase the safety of workers and others. She’s especially interested in the agricultural sector. That could mean on the farm, in packing houses or in other places. For her latest research, Gorucu studied skid steer loaders, machines used to move dirt and mow grazing lands, among other agricultural applications. They’re also used in forestry to pull logs. Skid steer operators tend to turn them around and put them in reverse frequently, making it more challenging to use them safely, as vision is an issue. In a new study published in the journal Safety, Gorucu found skid steer loaders caused more than 300 injuries from 2015 to 2020. One-third of them were in the agriculture sector. Among those in agriculture, 24 (more than one-third) involved youth, aged 5 to 18.
Gorucu said the study’s findings reinforce the need for improved safety engineering and clear safety guidelines for skid steer operators – particularly because children are so vulnerable around the machines.
“In agriculture, workplace and home are usually the same,” said Gorucu, a UF/IFAS assistant professor of agricultural and biological engineering. “So, youth are exposed to all kinds of workplace hazards as bystanders. Also, sometimes, young children ride as passengers on skid steers.”
“In some cases, we see young children operating the machine. We cannot overstate how important it is that youth should not be present in these work environments.”
Among other key findings in the new study:
• Construction, waste management and agriculture topped the list of industries for skid steer loader injuries.
• Bystander workers were injured more often than those who operated the machines.
The data in the study comes from injury reports from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and AgInjuryNews, a web-based tool that compiles serious agricultural injuries reported by the media.
Researchers found injuries from skid steer loaders in 44 states, with Florida (27), California (27) and Texas (40) leading the way.
Because this marks the first time any researcher has looked into skid steer loader injuries, there are no previous numbers to compare Gorucu’s findings. But she is more concerned about the injuries and how to prevent them.
One tip involves vision. Operators of skid steer loaders often cannot see well around the machines. Gorucu suggests using camera systems or sensors to warn them of bystanders.
For this research, Gorucu received assistance from Bryan Weichelt, an associate research scientist and Richard Burke, research specialist – both with the National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety, National Farm Medicine Center, in Marshfield, Wisconsin.