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Forces required to operate controls on farm tractors: Implications for young operators

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Farm tractors account for the majority of fatal injuries to adolescents working in agriculture and therefore remain a leading occupational priority. The question of whether these injuries occur because adolescents are assigned tractor jobs beyond their physical capabilities has not been answered. The purpose of this study was to estimate the activation forces required to operate controls on 40 tractors in common use in the US and compare them with existing estimates of physical strength for children of varying ages and with recommended ergonomic force limits for repeatedly engaging controls. Activation forces for steering, brakes and clutch were measured on each tractor. The main study finding was that the activation forces required to operate tractors typically exceeded the physical abilities of most children aged 13 to 17 years. This raises serious questions about the ability of children to safely operate tractors in common use on US farms. This study provides an ergonomic approach for evaluating the potential mismatch between young people's strength capabilities and forces required in operating farm tractors. This approach could be used in similar situations where adolescents may operate vehicles (e.g. all-terrain vehicles), machinery or other mechanical devices requiring activation of levers and controls. Study findings potentially inform the establishment of occupational policies surrounding tractor operation by young people.
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Keywords: agriculture; children; safety; strength

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Agricultural Ergonomics Research Center, Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering, University of California, Davis, CA, USA 2: Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation, National Farm Medicine Center, Marshfield, WI, USA 3: Department of Community Health and Epidemiology, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada

Publication date: July 1, 2008

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