Information on the mechanization of agriculture, gardening, components and multifunctionality.

Revision and learners license for safety policy

Safety in the fields, just as there is in all other work environments, must be a priority. Up to the present the numbers of deaths on the job involving tractors and other agricultural machinery are too many. Inail, the Italian National On The Job Insurance Institute, provides and clear and precise picture. Mandatory revision of agricultural machinery and professional qualification for operators are fundamental steps for

by Paolino Buttaci e Domenico Papaleo
July - August - September 2015 | Back

A mindset of safety is one of the indicators for gauging the civil evolution of a society. This is achieved at two inseparable levels. On one is a system of regulations aimed at guaranteeing the best conditions for safety in life and in the work requirement, and the other is the widespread growth of a mentality, an outlook which considers safety as an essential component for daily life and concern for one’s own life and that of others.

In these terms, can Italy be considered an evolved country? The enactment of Legislative Decree no. 81 of April 9, 2008 on safeguarding health and safety in places of work undoubtedly brought in substantial changes over what prevailed in the past. Since then, from one renewal and another, the matter has remained on the political agenda as measures and developments which do not appear to respond to the country’s requirements. National news stories, in fact, continue to report numerous accidents on the job. These deaths are described as “white deaths” (morti bianche) in Italian because the impression is that no one is responsible, a concept which goes back to a tragic fatality worthy of only a few lines in an online local edition or not even that. Death comes through lack of caution or distraction, excessive confidence in one’s one skills and experience; one dies because the rules were not respected, because of a preference to tamper with, or even set aside, the device which could have saved one’s own life if properly used.

This white death phenomenon makes no distinction: building construction, industry, services, crafts and others all pay a heavy price in human life. The agricultural sector is no exception, though perhaps it arouses less noise, and the data are clear: accidents in the field kill a person every two days.

The most recent report prepared by Asap, an association of highway police supporters, disclosed alarming data on accidents involving agricultural machinery. The month of May this year was especially dramatic as the result of tractor accidents in the fields.  The Centauro-Asaps Observatory reported 29 episodes in the first fifteen days of the month resulting in twenty deaths, seventeen who were driving farm tractors. These figures compare to eight victims claimed on the nation’s entire express highway network to indicate that in the spring, the toll in the fields is double that for express highways. 

Furthermore, anyone leafing through the annual Observatory 2014 Report on accidents in the agricultural-forestry sector is struck first by data disclosing 427 accidents reported overall of which 189 were fatal.

The Observatory on accidents in the agricultural-forestry sector, created in the VIII Unit of the Inail Department of Technology and Safety, manages reports and develops information on accidents incurred by all workers in the sector whether or not they are enrolled for Inail insurance coverage, that is, including non-professional operators and hobby farmers. 

Analyses of this data bring out the point that farm and forestry tractors are involved on their own in more than half the accident cases in the sector, 57% of them. Considering the types of accidents, it must be emphasized that 77% of the cases come under the heading rollover as the cause of the accidents.

Tractors are the machines which most closely meet the needs of farmers, they are versatile and the most used so it comes as no surprise that they are the machines most involved in accidents. On the other hand, what is surprising is the number and the seriousness of these accidents. Today, tractors are equipped with protection devices in the cab in case of rollover, ROPS (Roll Over Protection Structure), and seatbelts suitable to keep the driver inside this rollover protection. The problem arises with older tractors which are not equipped with safety devices because the prevailing norms when they were built did not require them. 

According to the data in the Observatory on accidents in the agricultural-forestry sector 2014, other types of machinery most frequently involved in these reported events were cultivators and two-wheel tractors, accounting for 10%, and chainsaws, 9% of the total. Also named are accidents with driveshafts, 66% of which are fatal for the operator (Tab. 1).

Other data to look at are those providing information on the age categories of those involved in accidents. The majority of these cases, 67%, are workers aged fifty years or more (Tab. 2). It is well known that the average age of working farmers is high but this factor does not explain the reason for this data which should not be searched for in the skills of these workers but in the way they often approach mechanical means. Farmers of advanced age, in fact, have long experience behind them and take pride in their safety but make mistakes which could be avoided with correct training.

The picture which takes shape while running through these data are fairly troubling, especially when leaning of the number of victims. Lowering the average age, updating the national machinery inventory and using correct training and information for agricultural machinery end-users seem to be the only path to follow to curb the white deaths phenomenon in agriculture. The instruments to apply have been identified as the mandatory revision of agricultural machinery and the professional qualification of operators with the so-called learners licenses.


Revision of agricultural machinery

The revision of agricultural machinery looks today like the most available instrument to limit the number of deaths in agriculture with the most positive results for the future. The data dealt with above make it evident that the tractor, much more than any other agricultural machine, is the one most involved in fatal accidents. Data supplied by the Statistics Office of FederUnacoma, the Italian Agricultural Machine Manufacturers Federation, shared with Inail, put the national tractor inventory at 1,600,000 units with an average age of about twenty years.

The obsolence of tractors in Italy is obviously the leading cause of accidents and overturning. These are machines with outdated technologies, without the devices which have improved technical characteristics and their functions coming out over the years of mechanical engineering and design advances. Their wear associated with age compromises performance. Reference has been made to devices for the protection of  drivers against tractor rollover, ROPS and seat belts, provided in design and required for type-approval which did not exist around ten years ago. Tampering with or even removing technical safety devices by farmers unfortunately shows their lack of understanding of their importance.

The total of accidents with tractors in 2014 reported by Inail came to 239, of which 121 resulted in death. As many as 100 of these fatalities were mainly caused by the lack of ROPS, tampering with the device or the failure to raise the type of ROPS which can be lowered (see folding ROPS) as well as by the lack of seat belts (Tab. 3).

For the discussion of these data, which vary very little from one year to the next, and the causes cited, FederUnacoma has taken part in roundtable talks with INAIL technical personnel for the purpose of drafting guidelines to provide end-users with useful information on how to retrofit their own agricultural machinery. Before issuing INAIL guidelines for updating an estimated 1,600,000 tractors in 2009, 700,000 of them turned out to be without ROPS and 1,200,000 without seatbelts. Thanks to retrofitting work which followed the application of the INAIL guidelines, 80,000 tractors have been equipped with rollover protection devices.

More than many words, the numbers lead to the understanding that the overall national tractor inventory is still far from the norms for minimum safety. To handle all this, consideration might be given to lowering the average age of the national tractor inventory through a series of incentives aimed at scrapping the obsolete machines to be replaced with technologically advanced tractors fully equipped with safety measures as well as the ergonomics which best fulfill the requirements of the operations performed by farmers.

However, on the one hand there is the problem for politicians of coming up with considerable sums of money to invest in a project of this scope and, on the other, is the time possibly taken to carry it out – in light of the fact that the number of tractors sold in Italy come to about 18,000 units a year, this means that the “replacement” time could go on for some thirty years – to rule out this solution, at least for the immediate future.

Instead, the revision of agricultural machinery would make it possible to draw on an immediate and efficient instrument to actually determine the presence of safety requisites prescribed by law, to become an acceptable alternative for reaching such an important objective. 

The political arena seems to have understood the that preventive strategy, the instrument of revision, could work to avoid the phenomenon of fatalities on the job in agriculture. For a number of years this instrument has been moving ahead through a legislative process for the purpose of making it mandatory. In connection with the “Growth Decree” in December 2012, changes in art. 111 of the Highway Code introduced the revision of agricultural machinery beginning January 1, 2014. Since then, various exemptions from semester to semester pushed forward enactment to the publication in the Official Gazette (no. 149, 30/06/2015) for the “Agricultural Machinery Revision” Decree which sets the timetables and methods for compliance with the decree.

The measure calls for agricultural tractors to be subjected to revision beginning January 1, 2016 (Tab. 4) whereas other two or more axle machinery, grape harvesters, combine harvesters and the like, and agricultural trailers registered must undergo revision as of January 1, 2018. Moreover, the degree stipulates that these revisions must be carried out every five years.


Professional qualification for operators and drivers of some types of machinery, the so-called learners licenses

Attention trained on safety in agriculture is not limited to adequate machinery features with the installation of specific devices; accidents are also often caused by reasons directly connected to the lack of the operator’s preparation to deal with dangerous situations.

By definition, an accident is an unforeseen event which leads to damage, thus when this happens there is little or nothing that can be done to remedy it. On the other hand, efforts can be made to avoid the unforeseen, beginning with the right training and information for those on the job. Though the revision instrument can be applied to “force” the owners of agricultural machinery to bring their inventories up to the safety standards required, it will be much more difficult to “implant” a safety mentality for the daily operations carried out by workers who often underestimate the danger involved with what they are doing and with the machinery they are maneuvering. They may also be overly confident of their capabilities, reaction times and their own experience.

Thus shortcomings in specific training for the operators of machinery is another important cause, along with the lack of safety devices, of accidents in agriculture. An example are the numerous accidents due to tractor rollovers of caused by maneuvers on sloping land incorrectly performed by drivers. In other cases, the source of accidents can be found in the failure of the operator to recognize dangerous conditions created by the removal of specific protection from working components, as with accidents involving driveshafts, or the operator leaving the workplace and leaving the machine running. 

Maneuvering tractors in the field to perform specific crop operations lead to conditions carrying much greater risks than those involved in driving on the highway. As of the present, for driving and maneuvering a tractor only a B type drivers license is needed but for which, as is known, there is no requirement for even rudimentary theory or the least practice in driving these machines. It seems evident that what is needed are training courses for the instruction of drivers, whether they are beginners or have experience, in light of the fact that fatal tractor accidents involve drivers of over age fifty in 93% of these cases. Instructions must cover the correct use of the machine and the consequences of incorrect maneuvers.

As for revision, also the creation of learners licenses, recognized as an important step by everyone, has led to a legislative process. A Government-Regional agreement in March 2013, published in Official Gazette no. 60 of March 12, 2012, set up specific qualifications for the end-users of mechanical equipment for non-salaried workers and those on the payroll in line with the contents of the Single Text on safety on the job (art. 73 paragraphs 4 and 5 Legislative Decree 81/08).

An initial extension in 2013 and another one in 2014 pushed the date for enactment to January 1, 2016 (Tab. 5). The certification of the qualification of workers is planned for this date to be obtained by attending technical and practical training courses which close with a final verification test. Obtaining a regular drivers license, issued in accordance with the Highway Code Legislative Decree of April 30, 1992, does not release the driver from the need for a specific learners license in that the drivers license is valid only for driving on public roads.

The learners license refers to specific regulations on the correct conduct of the drivers of mechanical equipment on the worksite. These mechanized means covered in the learners license are agricultural and forestry tractors, wheeled and track, including transporters, telescopic handlers, fruit harvesting wagons and some types of earthmoving machinery, especially hydraulic excavators and cable winches, fronthoe loaders, track dump trucks and cement pumps.   


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