Distracted driving. We hear about it every day. In fact, twenty states have distracted driving laws to protect everyone on the road – yet most of us would never consider distraction when it comes to inside the tractor implement cab.
But it is something we all need to be thinking about as a key part of managing daily farming activities.
According to the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety, 417 farmers and farm workers died from a work-related injury in 2016, resulting in a fatality rate of 21.4 deaths per 100,000 workers, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Transportation incidents, which include tractor overturns, were the leading cause of death for these farmers and farm workers.
More recently, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows the agricultural sector is the most dangerous occupation in the United States, with 581 fatalities in 2017 – equal to 23 deaths per 100,000 workers.
While growers’ and workers’ safety is priority number one, eliminating distractions in the cab is more than a safety issue. It’s a practice that also makes the farming day less stressful and demanding.
More than Safety
Distractions in the cab can lead to information confusion. With data continuously flowing in and out of the cab through displays, devices, and dials, it is important that growers are focusing on and processing the right information, while not becoming needlessly distracted by data overload.
This is also why reducing distractions allows growers to focus on the quality of work being done. Think about combining. Time wasted looking at errant data could be better used to control headers, do quality assurance on tailings, and create a more marketable harvest.
Finally, distracted driving can increase operator fatigue. The overwhelming feeling of “paralysis by analysis” is real and can take a mental toll on growers. Mental fatigue can lead to everything from tension to bad posture, which can then translate to physical fatigue as well. By helping to streamline and eliminate unnecessary information systems, growers can reduce the mental and physical fatigue that comes from feeling too busy in the cab.
Related article: How to set up good systems for actionable data
Whether a grower, trusted advisor, or other farm operations ally, it’s everyone’s responsibility to encourage safe business practices – and eliminating distractions is no exception. Here are five ways to do this.
1. Technology Audit
Everyone has had a piece of technology that’s used so infrequently, more time is spent re-learning it than is actually saved by using it. That can feel the same way for growers, especially during equipment start-ups each year.
At the start of a growing cycle, every farmer should do a technology audit. Dealer partners can help both growers and trusted advisors with this audit, and eliminate any data in the cab that is not necessary, then provide trainings and in-field machine start-ups prior to a new season.
For growers who like to get hands-on more often, larger retailers have online simulators for precision ag solutions, while dealerships may have their own simulators as well that offer a more realistic experience. Simulators are a great step to make the transition into the cab easier so it’s a great time investment to familiarize everyone at the start of the season.
2. Scan and Correlate
In the aviation world, pilots are trained to learn how to scan through instruments, using the same pattern each time, to reduce the need to “hunt and peck” through everything provided. This ultimately allows them to get to the information needed in the most efficient way possible.
Growers can adapt this same strategy and create a system of scanning to view relevant or corresponding information together. There is no one-size-fits-all system, though, as growers need to determine what information fits and correlates together best.
Once a pattern has been identified, set aside a small amount of time each day to practice a scan. To make it even easier, something as simple and low tech as sticky notes can be used to create arrows in the pattern of where the eye should move.
It seems like a trivial thing to practice, but with a few repetitions, it will create a habit – training the brain to expect the same information in the same order, then allowing a quick assessment, and shifting focus back outside of the cab.
3. Only What’s Relevant
Because of how smart and sophisticated modern precision agriculture systems are, it may see as though every piece of information is important. These days, most offer enough features to measure seemingly everything imaginable. That means that managing what you see starts by acknowledging what you need to see.
Related article: How precision agriculture is changing and we can evolve with it
The first step is to determine the information that is collected by precision equipment. An equipment dealership partner is a great resource for growers to start the process and check in end-of-season to review the mass of information that comes out of precision equipment.
Start by making three columns:
Need to know that minute
Need to know that day
May never need to know
These three columns are each grower’s alone to determine. From there, fill in each, then use it as a priority reminder of what needs to be reviewed moment-by-moment and what can be looked at later – or disregarded altogether.
Once the top tier info is determined, distractions from other info should be easy to eliminate. A home screen can be customized, or a simple sticky note can be used as a reminder or to cover instruments that provide unnecessary information. After all, screens are designed to be attention-grabbing and encourage the eyes to return. It may seem silly to put a sticky note over a certain section but it will keep the eyes from being drawn towards a piece of unnecessary information.
4. More is Less
For growers who have the option, extended monitors or precision ag related device apps can be a great way to be more efficient and reduce wasted time.
This seems counter-intuitive, right? Won’t adding more screens add more distractions? While it may add more places to look, the reducing the need to toggle through display pages on the main screen can keep the hands and eyes free. Having the most important information displayed in various places can actually be a more efficient way of viewing necessary info.
5. No Notifications
Cell phones are the leading culprit of distracted driving – both in vehicles and in the implement cab. The easiest way to keep a phone from being a distraction is to turn off all notifications. All major operating systems have operational systems that can prevent hearing the dings and rings of applications and unnecessary messaging.
Apps are designed so that users want to constantly check them. In fact, most use red and orange notification bubbles because the colors are harder to ignore. On top of that, texts, emails, and even some calls that aren’t urgent don’t need to be addressed right away. Consider creating “away messages” that auto populate and send when in a cab and turn the notifications from all non-vital contacts off with the “Do Not Disturb” function.
Of course, a certain amount of connectivity is vital for operation – yet it’s a guarantee none of those vital connection moments involve #AGTwitter. So fight the urge and stay off a device if it is not directly displaying information that is needed minute-by-minute.
With a few simple safety tips, practice, and change of methods, every grower can minimize distractions, leading to greater safety and more efficient operation. After all, we all want every growing season to be the safest season yet.
About the Author
Erin Hightower has been working in farm planning and agronomy for 13 years. At RDO Equipment Co., she works with team members and growers in the Northwest region, focused on education and training, and conducting field trials. She’s a regular contributor to PrecisionAg.com and CropLife.com, a Certified Crop Advisor (CCA), and Certified USDA NRCS Nutrient Management Planner, Certified Conservation Planner, and Comprehensive Nutrient Management Planner. Connect with her on Twitter @RDOErinH.
Interested in more about precision agriculture? Check out the RDO Equipment Co. Agriculture Technology Podcast, browse past episodes, and find out more about everything from equipment to UAVs to specialty crop care.
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