OSHA issues fact sheet on farm workers and ATVs
Washington, DC – A new resource from OSHA explains how employers can help protect agricultural workers who operate all-terrain vehicles.
The fact sheet details why ATVs can be dangerous, how employers should train operators and what personal protective equipment they should provide. It states that employers should train workers to perform safety checks before and after rides, consider load and weight limitations, and know how to safely cross roads and work solo.
Agricultural workers use the vehicles to perform activities such as pulling trailers, hauling loads and rounding up livestock.
According to the fact sheet, NIOSH found that 2,090 injuries and 321 fatalities related to ATVs occurred between 2003 and 2011 – with 3 out of 5 workplace deaths occurring in agriculture.
The fact sheet states that employers should train operators to do the following:
- Before starting the ATV, put it in neutral or park.
- Drive at a speed appropriate for the terrain and visibility.
- Do not speed.
- Keep alert around hazards such as holes, stumps and fences.
- Operate the ATV in accordance with the owner’s manual. Do not attempt wheelies or other stunts.
- Stay alert when approaching hills, turns and other obstacles.
Oregon OSHA Posts ATV Safety Fact Sheet
Paved roads, excessive speed, steep slopes, and carrying passengers and unstable loads are the chief risks and hazards for ATV riders, the sheet explains.
Oregon OSHA recently posted a fact sheet about all-terrain vehicles, explaining Oregon's three ATV classifications, listing the industries from which accepted disabling claims involving ATVs in Oregon originated in 2009-2013, and offering guidance on hazards, PPE, training, and state laws. Anyone younger than 18 who rides an ATV on public lands must wear an approved motorcycle helmet with the chinstrap fastened, for example, except when the ATV is being used exclusively in farming, agriculture, forestry, or nursery or Christmas tree growing operations; the ATV is being used on land owned or leased by the vehicle's owner; or the ATV is a street-legal Class II vehicle registered in Oregon.
The fact sheet shows that more than half of the accepted disabling claims -- 59 out of 110 during the five-year period -- came from the agriculture, forestry, and fishing industries in Oregon. Another 17 came from local and state governments. Only two came from the construction industry, both in 2010.
Paved roads, excessive speed, steep slopes, and carrying passengers and unstable loads are the chief risks and hazards for ATV riders, the sheet explains.
Riding risks and hazards of ATV
ATVs can be difficult to control on paved roads, even at slow speeds. They
are also a hazard for other motorists who pass them on highways.
Rough terrain and excessive speed.
ATVs make it easier to reach remote locations, but drivers need to be aware of rocks, logs, ditches, equipment, and other obstacles. Driving too fast limits reaction time and increases the risk of overturning the ATV or striking and unmarked object.
ATVs are easy to overturn, especially on steep slopes. Inexperienced
drivers tend to overestimate an ATV’s stability on such terrain. Traveling across slopes on three-wheeled vehicles is particularly dangerous
Passengers and unstable loads.
Most ATVs are not designed to carry passengers; an extra rider does not have a secure place to stand or sit and makes the vehicle unstable. Improperly secured cargo also affects an ATV’s stability.
Deceptively Dangerous: Why ATVs keep killing
Soon the ambulances rolled, too.
In North Carolina, an ATV overturned and crushed an 18-year-old woman to death. A collision with a truck killed two ATV riders in Centertown, Ky. Two girls, ages 4 and 7, died in separate ATV wrecks in eastern Texas. And two infants -- a 14-month-old in South Carolina and an 8-month-old in Perris, Calif. -- died in two more ATV crashes.
In Oregon that weekend, Debby Schubert, 45, and Donnie Moody, 31, became the state's first ATV fatalities this year when their machine tumbled into a dry canal east of Redmond.
Nine dead, including four children. Another bloody weekend in ATV country, where the quest for thrills and family fun can turn to grief in one terrifying moment.
Nearly 20 years ago, the federal government declared ATVs an "imminent hazard" and forced manufacturers to drop unstable three-wheel models in favor of the four-wheelers sold today. Regulators also compelled the ATV industry to adopt safety warnings and offer rider training to stem the accidents.
Since then, federal officials have done little more than tally the dead, and the failure of their approach can be seen in the grim body counts from Oregon to West Virginia.
The rate of injuries per ATV has barely budged from where it stood in the years after the government acted in 1988. Though death rates initially plummeted as three-wheelers disappeared, there's been scant improvement since.
Over the past decade, the machines have soared in popularity, with 7.6 million in use. The result: Record numbers of riders end up in emergency rooms and morgues as accidents kill about 800 people a year and injure an estimated 136,700.
"This is one of the worst examples ever of a government agency failing in its fundamental mission to protect the American public," Stuart M. Statler, a former U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission member, said of the agency's inability to significantly reduce ATV deaths and injuries during the past two decades.
Statler never imagined, when he helped lead the crackdown on ATVs in the 1980s, that deaths might someday surpass 1,000. Now, nearly 8,000 people have died in ATV crashes since the commission began counting, and 2 million have been seriously hurt.
A quarter of the dead and nearly a third of the injured are children. In Oregon, at least 82 people have died on ATVs since 2000, including 22 younger than 16. Serious ATV injuries in the state have increased at almost double the national rate in recent years.
Safety risks haven't dented the allure of ATVs. Over the past decade, sales tripled to $5 billion a year as companies introduced bigger, faster models. Though companies have added new features such as four-wheel drive and power steering, they haven't eliminated a long-standing problem: overturns.
The machines flip over with punishing regularity -- smashing faces, breaking necks, crushing chests.
The major manufacturers -- Honda, Polaris, Yamaha, Kawasaki, Suzuki, Bombardier and Arctic Cat -- insist their machines are safe and stable if operated properly. They fault riders for accidents.
"The safety issue is with the appropriate use," William Willen, a lawyer for ATV market leader Honda, told The Oregonian. "It's how people use the machines."
Honda's safety slogan sums it up: "Stupid Hurts."
But reckless riders are only part of the problem. The federal government has not extensively tested ATV stability since at least 1991. An engineering firm hired by The Oregonian tested the stability of four popular ATV models and concluded they were dangerously prone to overturns.
The newspaper also analyzed fatal crashes and reached a surprising finding: Overturns were as common among riders who appeared to be obeying basic safety warnings as among those who didn't.
Together, the results point to the role that ATV design plays in many crashes, yet regulators have largely ignored it. Meanwhile, abundant evidence shows that riders don't follow the warnings and decline free training programs, the key tenets of the government and industry approach to safety.
If only irresponsible or inexperienced riders were getting killed on ATVs, the roster of the dead might look different. Last month, a Ripon, Calif., cop and a biologist studying turtles at the Padre Island National Seashore in Texas perished in on-the-job ATV crashes.
The costs associated with ATV accidents aren't borne by victims alone. Taxpayers and employers pick up about $3 billion a year in medical expenses through government and private insurance, the consumer agency has estimated.
For parents who've lost children, the dollars pale next to the price in sorrow.
Last Mother's Day, 17-year-old Crane Mattox, an experienced rider, took his ATV out for an evening spin in the Blue Mountains near his home in Dayton, Wash. As Mattox rode up a slope, the machine flipped over backward. Searchers went out when Mattox didn't return. A cousin found him the next morning, dead under the ATV.
"If you're going to ride these things, you need to know the risks," said Mattox's mother, Dana Martin. "And the risks are death and losing your child."
On a chilly weekend last August, thousands of ATV riders flocked to the south coast near Reedsport for DuneFest, the wildest ATV party of the year at the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area.
Riders roared by at 60 mph, doing doughnuts and jumping over huge dunes that can soar hundreds of feet. Dozens lined up to challenge Banshee Hill, one of the biggest and steepest inclines. A man with no helmet crested the summit pulling a wheelie -- a preschooler clutching the ATV's handlebars in front.
Nearby stood a small wooden cross, where three weeks earlier a passer-by found 23-year-old Justin Miller. An expert rider from Yelm, Wash., Miller wrecked his Yamaha Raptor and suffocated under the 400-pound machine.
Since the first ATV casualty reports long ago, manufacturers have deflected questions about the design and safety of their product by pointing to reckless behavior by their customers.
Places such as the dunes, the epicenter of Northwest ATV culture, help explain why the industry's emphasis on rider responsibility and the government's reliance on warning labels haven't worked.
Few rules apply at the dunes, and disregard for ATV safety warnings is widespread.
Riders go without helmets and carry passengers. They do jumps and stunts and ride over the roughest terrain. Some drink and drive. Children commonly race around on adult-sized machines. All are behaviors that ATV owner's manuals and the Consumer Product Safety Commission warn against.
Larry Runk, a retired Oregon State Police trooper who patrols the dunes for the U.S. Forest Service, has seen it all: airborne ATVs coming down on top of other riders; adults zooming by with babies on the seat behind them; a preschooler, leg broken in a crash, sobbing as medical crews hauled away his dead father.
"If I could write a ticket for stupid," Runk said, "I'd run out of pens and paper."
Matt Gerber, a veteran rider of both ATVs and motocross bikes from Milwaukie, counts himself in the slice of the country's 16 million enthusiasts who see ATVs as a family activity and try to stick to the rules. Many invest tens of thousands of dollars in ATVs for parents and kids, not counting safety gear, trailers and other trappings of the sport.
Gerber, 37, is a stickler for safety. He limits his 11-year-old daughter to riding her youth ATV, "and I'll never let her out of my sight." But after 22 years of off-road riding, he acknowledges there's another reality.
"For at least half the riders or more, it's just an adrenaline junkie thing," he said. "It's people who want to just go at breakneck speed."
Accidents aren't limited to public recreational areas like the dunes. A growing number involve riders taking ATVs on paved roads, where traffic increases odds of a collision. Millions use them for ranching, hunting and family outings on private trails, and the casualties hit riders of all ages and experience levels.
In some cases, riders seem to be doing only what their ATV's name says: driving on all terrain.
Arnold "Leroy" Thompson, 67, of Seaside appeared to be following all the rules last October, when he and his son went out on the Thin Wolf Trail in the Tillamook State Forest. Though experienced on ATVs, Thompson was relatively new to the Arctic Cat he drove. He couldn't work up much speed on the narrow, switchback trail.
Nevertheless, the back end of Thompson's ATV pitched forward as he rode down a hill. Tony Thompson, 25, found his father lying on the ground "folded like an accordion." He was conscious but had trouble breathing and couldn't move his legs. Thompson told his son the accident happened without warning.
Minutes later, he died.
Federal records show that more than half of those who die on ATVs perish in crashes where the machines roll over sideways or flip forward or backward. In some cases, overturns happen after the ATV hits something or tumbles off a steep drop.
But about a third of the time, the government data show, rollovers are the first known event in a fatal crash. And as ATV companies make heavier machines, overturns pose an increasing danger. The Arctic Cat 500 that crushed Thompson, for example, is among the heavier ATVs made -- more than 600 pounds.
ATV companies are quick to point to the large number of crashes in which riders ignore warnings. That is true more than 80 percent of the time in the government's database of fatal crashes, The Oregonian's analysis found.
The warnings are posted right on the ATVs and state clearly what riders shouldn't do: drink and drive, ride without a helmet, carry a passenger or operate an adult machine if under 16. Labels also warn against riding on public roads, where traffic is a hazard, or on pavement, because ATV tires are for off-road surfaces.
But failure to comply with warnings doesn't always explain rollovers, The Oregonian found.
Working with the Consumer Product Safety Commission's crash data, the newspaper examined 2,732 fatal accidents involving four-wheel ATVs since 2000 and separated the cases into two groups: the large group of riders who ignored at least one safety warning, and the much smaller group of riders who didn't.
The newspaper then looked to see how often overturns were the primary event in the crash.
The unexpected result: Riders who followed the warnings overturned in about two out of five cases, a rate comparable to the frequency of rollovers in the group that ignored one or more warnings.
The comparison doesn't suggest that riders should ignore safety warnings. The analysis also showed, for example, that overturns are more likely in crashes where an adult-sized ATV is driven by a child under 16.
A lawyer for the industry's trade group, the Specialty Vehicle Institute of America, called The Oregonian's analysis "fatally flawed," saying the industry's research over the years shows the benefits of following warnings.
The persistence of rollovers among riders who followed the basic precautions shows why engineers and safety advocates have long pointed to another factor: ATV design.
ATVs have a narrow track width and high ground clearance, necessary qualities that allow them to travel on rough territory and narrow trails. The same qualities make them far less stable than cars or SUVs.
Under pressure about rollovers, the ATV companies in 1988 signed agreements with the Consumer Product Safety Commission pledging not to build four-wheel ATVs with less sideways stability than those they sold at the time. Since 1991, the commission hasn't performed tests to check whether the companies kept their pledge.
To find out, the newspaper hired engineer Thomas R. Fries of Portland to measure the stability of four popular models. Fries has been a plaintiff's expert in ATV lawsuits and has done defense work in other vehicle crash cases.
Fries followed industry and Consumer Product Safety Commission methods. He first measured front and back stability -- called pitch stability -- and found that all four machines met the current, industry-adopted standard.
But Fries said the government's test method overstates stability by 10 percent to 15 percent.
To get a more realistic result, he performed a different test. ATVs were placed on a table and tilted sideways to discover their tip angle -- the point at which their upper wheels lift off the surface. The tilt table method is better, Fries said, because it accounts for the way an ATV's suspension and tires behave.
On the tilt table test, all of the machines came in below a stability threshold Fries considered safe.
"They're dangerous," Fries said. "They are too prone to tipping over."
Fries said that small changes in ATV design -- such as widening the track width by a couple of inches and lowering the rider seating position -- would significantly increase stability. His report can be read online at www.oregonlive.com.
The ATV manufacturers don't dispute that their machines can roll or flip. Instead, they argue that ATVs are a special breed of vehicle they describe as "rider-active." In other words, it's up to drivers to keep the ATV upright by shifting their body weight from side to side or front to back.
That's why the consumer product agency warns so strongly that children younger than 16 should stay off adult-sized machines: They lack the size, strength and judgment to control a big ATV.
Overturns showed up often among 69 Oregon and Washington ATV deaths that The Oregonian documented by gathering accident reports. The deaths, spanning the past 3½ years, include 18 crashes in which overturns appear to be the first event. Six of the overturns involved children younger than 16.
With their four fat tires, ATVs look stable. But their name is misleading. ATVs can't go on all terrain, and manufacturers explicitly warn against taking them on rough, steep or unfamiliar ground.
In its safety video, Polaris offers riders this advice if an overturn seems imminent: "Be prepared to dismount quickly if necessary."
Aryck Kalinsky didn't get the chance to bail out. It was another bad break in a life filled with them.
Raised in a troubled home, he spent his adolescence in foster care. But Kalinsky was a stubborn optimist and a hard worker. He loved his job at a local dog kennel. By the summer of 2004, the 16-year-old persuaded state officials to let him move into his own place in Rainier.
On Aug. 12, 2004, Kalinsky was a passenger on the kennel's ATV when it flipped forward and landed on him, severely damaging his lungs. He died after four days in the trauma unit at Oregon Health & Science University.
The price tag for Kalinsky's hospital care: about $120,000, paid for by the kennel owners, who had to borrow the money against their property.
Not everyone dies in ATV wrecks -- many more suffer grievous injuries: On average, 375 people are hospitalized each day, and the severity of ATV injuries often means enormous medical bills.
Taxpayers picked up nearly a quarter of the $50 million in hospital costs for 1,795 Oregon ATV trauma cases from 2000 through 2005. The cost does not include doctors' fees, rehabilitation or other follow-up care.
"We see so much of it," says Matt Danigelis, an emergency room doctor at Peace Harbor Hospital in Florence near the dunes, "you start to go a little numb."
State figures show that the number of ATV permits sold in Oregon doubled over six years, and so did the number of trauma cases, reaching 414 in 2005. That's twice the rate that injuries grew nationally in the same period.
The industry's trade group says the rising numbers of dead and injured simply reflect the fact that more ATVs are in use.
"Millions of Americans operate ATVs safely every day," said Tim Buche, executive director of the Specialty Vehicle Institute of America.
Instead, the group focuses on the rate of injury per 10,000 ATVs, arguing that it has declined since 2001. The group also says children younger than 16 make up a smaller portion of the injured -- 30 percent -- than a few years ago.
It is true that injury rates have shifted some since 2001, but according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission's latest report, the changes aren't significant enough to indicate a trend up or down.
Of the 136,700 people hurt seriously enough to be hospitalized in 2005, an estimated 40,400 were children. The commission said child injuries have increased 18 percent overall since 2001. The industry points to a 10 percent dip in child injuries last year, but the commission says that change wasn't statistically significant.
Fatality trends are harder to characterize because the consumer agency has used different counting methods over the years. But except for an upward spike in 1999, when the newest method took effect, the agency's estimated risk of death has fluctuated little.
The commission disagrees with the industry's emphasis on rates.
"Our commitment is to drive down not a rate of deaths and injuries," said commission spokesman Scott Wolfson, "but the numbers of actual lives and family members affected by incidents that are happening across the country."
The Oregonian sent written questions about safety and other matters to all the major ATV companies, and they chose to respond through the SVIA. The answers are online at www.oregonlive.com.
Some ATV enthusiasts say safety concerns are overblown.
In testimony before an Oregon legislative committee earlier this year, enthusiasts asserted that riding an ATV is no more dangerous than skiing, skateboarding or playing baseball.
Statistics suggest they're wrong.
Bicycling and some contact sports such as football and basketball do cause more injuries than ATVs. But ATV injuries are more severe. The consumer safety agency found that ATV riders had triple the hospitalization rate of people hurt on bicycles, four times that of skateboarders and more than seven times that of football players.
Hospital bills reflect the relative severity of injury. Since 1998, the cost of treating child ATV patients in Oregon averaged $23,039 per case -- 43 percent higher than for kids hurt on bicycles, trauma data show.
Dr. Richard Mullins, chief of trauma/critical care at OHSU, led a recent study that charted a sharp rise in off-road accident victims treated at the university. Two-thirds of the cases involved ATVs, with a quarter of the patients younger than 15.
What bothers Mullins is the way the industry markets faster and bigger machines for their thrills.
"I have a problem with making these things look fun," he said. "There's nothing fun about a brain injury, or a ruptured eyeball, or broken ribs."
As ATV casualties hit new heights in recent years, trauma surgeons, pediatricians, public health officials, consumer advocates and bereaved parents all have clamored for action.
They have little to show for it.
For the first time since the 1980s, the Consumer Product Safety Commission is proposing new ATV safety rules. But the steps outlined by the agency largely preserve the status quo. One exception is a proposal to create a new class of faster ATVs for older teens, hoping to woo them from adult-sized models.
The rules do not propose a lateral stability standard or design changes to reduce rollovers.
Former commission officials and consumer advocates say the effect is to continue leaving the industry in charge of safety.
"There's this idea the watchdog government is there, and they protect us," said Leonard Goldstein, a longtime commission lawyer who worked extensively on ATV issues until retiring in 2005.
When it comes to ATVs, he said, the commission "has done essentially nothing except monitor deaths and injuries and study the problem for close to 10 years."
Last summer, the commission rejected a petition by the Consumer Federation of America and other groups to ban the sale of adult ATVs for use by children younger than 16 -- after deliberating nearly four years. The commission said such a ban would be unenforceable.
Commission officials say there are limits to their powers. Unlike states, the commission doesn't have the ability to regulate how consumers use a product. Under the law, the agency also must defer to industry safety standards before taking more aggressive action to ban a product or impose its own rules.
ATVs, officials say, pose a more complex problem than a single agency can solve.
"We want people to realize that everyone has a role to play in this," says Elizabeth Leland, who is leading the commission's review of ATV rules. "Parents are important, state and local governments are important, the industry is important, the federal government is important."
Last fall, the commission launched a safety Web site and public service ads that echo the industry emphasis on rider behavior. Asked then whether ATVs are designed as safely as possible, acting commission Chairwoman Nancy Nord told The Oregonian: "I believe the people who ride them need to take greater responsibility for their own safety."
The ATV industry argues that states are better suited to control how ATVs are used. But that has led to a grab bag of inconsistent state laws as enthusiasts and dealers fight restrictions on their right to ride.
In Oregon, four of five ATV safety bills introduced this legislative session appear dead after ATV rider groups overwhelmed safety advocates in a bitter political battle. The House defeated a mandatory helmet bill in March, and supporters have given up on a bill to ban riders younger than 12.
There was a time when Sue Baron would have marched alongside opponents of ATV laws.
But Baron, a longtime rider from Abbottsford, B.C., hasn't touched her ATV since the day two years ago when her 13-year-old son, Drew Dickson, died at the dunes near Florence.
An expert rider who had raced ATVs and dirt bikes, Drew was closely supervised and wore a helmet and chest plate. But friends found him at the bottom of a sand dune, pinned under his adult-sized ATV, his neck broken.
"Drew was wearing all the safety gear," his mother said. "It didn't make any difference."