The Safety of Farm Machinery in Kenya

KEBS and DOSHS should sensitize manufacturers and users of farm machines of the safety standards to ensure inherent safe design in all farm machinery.

The Safety of Farm Machinery in Kenya

On February 8th, 2017, doctors at Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) successfully reattached the severed hand of 17-year-old Joseph Thairu from Kiambu County, central Kenya. According to media reports, Thairu's arm was accidentally cut off while cleaning a chaff cutter after feeding their cows. 

Thairu's case is one of many accidents that occur in the use and maintenance of farm machinery in Kenya. According to the National Profile on Occupational Safety and Health - Kenya, the statistics for annual occupational accidents for the financial year 2010-2011 indicated agriculture and related activities having a total of 1364 accidents (14 fatal accidents and 1350 non-fatal accidents). 

Most of the chaff-cutters used in Kenyan farms have components manufactured in India and are locally assembled. When used to chop fodder, the operator is generally safe since a steel mesh guard is provided which prevents him from getting into contact with the blades. There is however the risk of injury to workers when feeding the fodder in to the chute. There is also a possibility of injury, as in the case of Thairu above, when the operator attempts to clean or remove materials stuck in the chaff cutter. 

Statistics from India where similar machines are used extensively in rural households to chop fodder for feeding draft and mulch to animals show that chaff cutters and threshers were at one time responsible for majority of injuries caused by farm machinery. According to studies published in 1992, agricultural related activities in India caused 5,000 to 10,000 deaths, 15,000 to 20,000 amputations and 1.5 to 2 million serious injuries every year in the states of Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh alone. 

More recent figures show a great improvement in the safety of the farm machinery. Out of the total 698 accidents recorded in a research conducted in seven states namely Tamil Nadu, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan, Arunachal Pradesh and West Bengal between 2004 and 2007, 5.6% were fatal and the remaining 94.4% is non-fatal in nature. The highest number of accidents were due to tractor and tractor operated implements (31%) with chaff cutters accounting for (9%) of all accidents. The fatalities due to farm machinery were 5.7 per 100,000 workers per year and the nonfatal injuries were 95.7 per 100,000 workers per year. It is worth noting that according to this research, none of the accidents caused by the chaff cutter were fatal.  

Driven by the high incident rates and following several reports of farm workers losing their limbs to chaff cutters, India developed a standard IS 15542:2005 for Power Operated Chaff Cutter – Safety Requirements. The standard provides specifications for materials used in construction of chaff cutters as well as general requirements to ensure safety of the machine. One of the specifications is the requirement for a 1 inch pin with a chain to lock the flywheel when it is not to be operated. The pin should be fixed on the flywheel main gear shaft at the end and fastened to the body of the chaff cutter with the help of the chain so as to restrict the movement of the system. Such a pin would have prevented the injury suffered by Thairu if well used.

The standard also requires that a front safety guard be tightly fitted on each knife blade of the chaff cutter. The guard should be made of mild steel rod which shall be given a curvature as of chaff cutter blade and have two holes at two ends for fitment in the chaff cutter with the blade mounting bolts. This device stands a little away from the blades and prevents injuries to the limbs as it pushes the limbs away and acts as a warning signal before the blades hit the limb.

Article 58 (1) of Kenya's Occupational Safety and Health Act of 2007 requires that every dangerous part of any machinery, other that prime movers and transmission machinery shall be securely fenced. The Act further requires that in instances where the safety of a dangerous part of any machinery cannot by reason of the nature of the operation be secured by means of a fixed guard, a device which automatically prevents the operator from coming into contact with the part should be provided.

The Act also charges designers, manufacturers and importers with the duty to ensure that the equipment is so designed and constructed as to be safe and without risks to health when properly used. However based on reports, it is evident that many of the chaff cutters lack the inherent safe design envisaged in the IS 15542:2005. 

The Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) has published several standards relating to farm machinery. The KS 992:2005 Standard Specifies materials, constructional and other requirements for manually operated chaff cutter.  The country also adopted KS ISO 4254 series of standards that specify technical means for ensuring safety in tractors and machinery used in agriculture and forestry.  These standards are available on the KEBS Website.

Although Kenya does not have a specific safety standard for the power operated chaff cutter as is the case in India, it would appear that if the existing KS ISO 4254 standards were implemented in designs of agricultural machinery, there is a high chance of reducing accidents caused by farm machinery manufactured locally or imported.  It is therefore up to the enforcement agencies including KEBS and the Directorate of Occupational safety and Health Services (DOSHS) to sensitize manufacturers, importers and users of these machines of the existing standards and of the need to ensure inherent safe design is incorporated in all farm machinery. 

There is also need for the country to develop equipment specific safety standards or even adopt standards from other countries to further enhance the safety of farm machinery and tools. 

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