Many children, teens, and families look forward to the fall to participate in a variety of harvest activities. While some individuals may favor traditional fall activities like apple or pumpkin picking, other people are looking for additional thrills. Many farms, orchards, dairies, and other agricultural facilities have recognized that there is a steady demand for attractions like frightening hayrides and haunted houses. Thus, many farms in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and throughout the United States have scrambled to ramp up agritainment offerings to the public.
While it is certainly a positive development in the sense that this additional stream of revenue should result in more viable farms, certain risks also exist. One of the most concerning risks is that farms and other facilities will not invest the time and effort needed to tailor their operations to particular safety risks that come with offering rides to the general public. Unfortunately, this risk is compounded by the fact that hay rides are not regulated like most people would expect.
Drawing on their more than 36 years of experience, a Philadelphia wrongful death lawyer of The Reiff Law Firm will have identified three key areas where a failure to consider safety risks can have serious consequences. Understanding these and other safety risks can aid parents in making the determination whether their child or teen should ride.
Hayride Accident Cause #1: Inadequate Equipment Is Utilized
All too often it seems as though farms do not fully consider the fact that people who ride hay rides have different safety needs than bales of hay or other inanimate cargo. For instance, non-living cargo may be able to be hauled safely using a wagon with low or no sidewalls, no seating, and no lights or other safety features. However, a wagon carrying human riders would need to be significantly modified to meet reasonable safety standards.
For instance, wagons that have distinct, assigned seating and safety restraints are significantly less likely to have incidents. The defined seating ensures that weight is evenly balanced in the wagon and reduces the risk of a rollover accident. The seat belts will not only restrain passengers in the event of an accident or incident but also will discourage individuals from standing while the ride is in motion. Furthermore, wagons that are equipped with high sidewalls of at least 2 feet in height and safety chains significantly reduce the risk of an accident.
Another concern is the tractor or truck that is used to pull the wagon. If a Jeep or pickup truck is being re-purposed to haul a large wagon, there is a high likelihood that the farm has not fully considered all foreseeable safety risks. Consider the fact that in the Harvest Hills hayride accident a 1979 Jeep was used to haul the trailer. This Jeep has a known greater than average rollover risk and was grossly inadequate to tow the weight of the wagon. Generally speaking, farms should only utilize rollover protection structure (ROPS) equipped tractors with a minimum 75 horsepower for hay rides.
Hayride Accident Cause #2: The Farm Failed to Account for Loading and Unloading People of all Ages
One sign that a farm may not have fully considered all safety risks is often evident in the facility’s approach to loading and unloading guests from the hay ride. As most experienced ride operators are aware, the loading and unloading phase is one of the riskiest periods where numerous things can go wrong. Therefore, most ride operators will take steps to minimize the risks during the phase of the ride.
One of the most effective ways farms can address the risks presented by loading people into a wagon is to avoid loading and unloading from a surface that is not level with the wagon floor. When guests are forced to climb up into the wagon or jump down from the tailgate, the risk of injury increases significantly. Ideally, guests will board from a platform, with handrail, that is level to the wagon floor. Alternatively, steps that allow the guest to board the wagon on a level plane can also be used to minimize the risk during loading and unloading of the wagon. Accounting for risks during the loading and unloading phase, including mobility impairments that guests may have, is a key step in preventing hayride accidents.
Hayride Accident Cause #3: Farm Safety Policies and Procedures are Inadequate
Another risk that some farms have difficulty adjusting to is tailoring policies and procedures to ensure the safety of the general public. While many farms can go years without an accident in core agricultural activities, providing rides to children and members of the general public requires a different approach to safety. Farms and agricultural facilities that recognize and prepare for these challenges frequently provide for safer operations.
For instance, all staff members involved in hay ride activities should be provided with safety training specific to the farm’s operations. This should include training regarding loading and unloading procedures, the operation of the tractor, what to do in the event of an incident, and many other safety concerns. Furthermore, facilities should engage in routine drills so that response to accidents or incidents are not delayed by uncertainty. Other signs a parent or caregiver can use to assess whether considerations paid to operations are sufficient to include whether signs of facility rules are posted, if the queuing area is orderly, and if staff members frequently patrol and enforce safety rules.