Agricultural workers use All-Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) to inspect and maintain crops, property, livestock, and more. While versatile, ATVs pose a safety hazard if they are not operated properly. The Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that there were 125,000 ATV injuries nationwide in 2003 and almost 6,000 deaths since 1982. Protective gear, inspections, and proper handling reduce ATV hazards for agricultural workers.
If you own or operate an ATV for agricultural work in California, ensure that it is sturdy, four-wheeled, and designed for power, traction, and stability; recreational ATVs are lightweight and designed for speed. The ATV should be licensed with the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Protective gear keeps you safe and in control of your ATV. Helmets certified for ATV use provide head protection and cut death risk by half; they should be secure and impact resistant, yet still allow peripheral vision. A helmet face shield, goggles, or glasses can provide eye protection from flying dirt, rocks, insects, or vegetation. Gloves and boots protect your hands and feet, and allow you to maintain a firm grip and control over the ATV. Long sleeves and pants protect exposed skin; padded and reinforced clothing is ideal.
ATV maintenance and pre-use inspections insure that you will not lose control due to a malfunction or end up walking a long distance. Tires should be in good condition and maintained at the manufacturer’s recommended air pressure. The ATV should have adequate oil and fuel levels. The chain, chassis, nuts, and other connections should be checked and secured. Brakes, controls, and cables should be functional, properly adjusted, and operate smoothly.
Proper operation helps you maintain control of the ATV. You need practice and instruction on ATV handling techniques prior to field use. Learn how to shift your weight and maintain speed during turns and up/down hill maneuvers. Most ATVs are designed for a single rider, but some seat two. If you have a two-seat ATV, the vehicle weight and handling will be altered when you carry a passenger; practice before you drive in the field.
When riding, scan ahead and to the side for obstacles, uneven terrain, vehicles, people, and animals. Reduce speed to at least 15 miles per hour if you see a potential hazard. Pay attention to hazards such as guy wires and barbed wire fences; they are low profile and difficult to see. Keep the ATV off of public roads; ATVs are only allowed to cross public roads. If you must cross a road, remember that ATVs are low to the ground and may not be visible to vehicles; use extreme caution. Lights, reflectors, and flags can make the ATV easier to see.
In California, there area specific regulations for riders under 18 years of age. For more information, call your local Cal/OSHA office.