Find an Expert Witness

Forensic, General & Medical
Expert Witnesses

Use of Standards in Cases Involving Agricultural and Grounds Maintenance Equipment

This article summarizes how important it is in cases involving agricultural and grounds maintenance equipment that an agricultural engineering expert find all of the appropriate government and industry standards as well as safety information from other organizations and then determine whether the equipment involved in the case complies with these standards.

When a personal injury or wrongful death case involves agricultural or grounds maintenance equipment, it will usually be necessary to retain an agricultural engineering expert to assist with the case. In most such cases, the agricultural engineering expert should start with a review of relevant industry and government standards. Most of the standards in this field are industry consensus standards, not mandatory government standards. Applicable government standards are few, but important.

Compliance with applicable industry standards is not compulsory, but the failure of a machine to conform to applicable consensus safety standards gives a plaintiff attorney strong ammunition against the designer, manufacturer, dealer, and/or rental agency. Conformance with applicable consensus safety standards is usually not a complete defense, but certainly makes a defense attorney’s job easier.

Not only is it important for an expert to consider all the appropriate standards, but the expert must also use the correct version of the standards. As a general rule, the version of the standard that was in effect at the time the subject machine was manufactured is the correct version to use. Trying to apply a current version of a standard to an older machine manufactured under an earlier version can result in the expert’s testimony being disallowed in a Daubert hearing.

It is easier to find current standards than obsolete versions. An agricultural engineering expert may have to do some digging to find the correct version of a standard. Furthermore, obtaining copies of obsolete standards is sometimes difficult since some professional engineering societies do not provide/sell obsolete versions of standards. These older versions, as well as current versions, are usually available from IHS Global ( An attorney or expert will often have a choice of buying a hard copy of a standard or opting for electronic delivery. It is necessary to pay for most standards (from any source), and the cost per page can be fairly steep.

Government Standards

The primary government standards of interest in this field are from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). The most relevant OSHA standard in many cases is 29 CFR Part 1928, Occupational and Health Standards for Agriculture. This standard covers some things such as overturn protection and cotton ginning in some detail, but provides only general guidance in other areas. In cases involving forestry equipment, 29 CFR Part 1910, Occupational Safety and Health Standards for General Industry, is appropriate since it specifically covers forestry topics. If the case involves small construction equipment used in grounds maintenance or landscape construction, 29 CFR Part 1926, Occupational Safety and Health Standards for the Construction Industry, may be appropriate. In some situations where none of the specific OSHA regulations apply, 29 USC 654 Section 5, the OSHA General Duty section, will be appropriate. Although OSHA is prohibited from inspecting small farming operations, these operations are not exempt from OSHA regulations and the standards are relevant. The relevant CPSC standard is 16 CFR Part 1205, Safety Standard for Walk-Behind Power Lawn Mowers.

Industry Consensus Standards

The American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE) is the primary standards organization for farm and grounds maintenance equipment, although The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) issues most tractor standards. Most of the ASABE standards will be labeled “ASAE” rather than “ASABE” since standards developed before the name change (inclusion of “and Biological”) still carry the ASAE label. Some are jointly listed as American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standards. There are three primary safety standards covering three primary sub-areas:

ANSI/ASAE S318.17 JUN2009 Safety for Agricultural Field Equipment
ANSI/ASAE S354.5 JAN2006 Safety for Farmstead Equipment
ASAE S440.3 MAR2005 Safety for Powered Lawn and Garden Equipment

The above standards provide specific safety recommendations for equipment used in each of the areas and each also references related standards. Another general safety standard from ASABE that is relevant to many agricultural and grounds maintenance injury cases is ANSI/ASAES493.1 JUL2003 Guarding for Agricultural Equipment. This standard provides a great deal of both general and specific guidance on safety guarding.

ASAE S441.3 FEB1999 Safety Signs provides guidance on wording and formatting of safety signs on equipment. It also has an annex containing many recommended pictorials for safety signs. Although in most cases, an agricultural engineering expert will not be allowed to testify as a warnings expert, an engineer can comment on conformance to ASAE S441 (or the lack of conformance). A related standard is SAE J284 JUN1975 (R2008) Safety Alert Symbol for Agricultural, Construction and Industrial Equipment.

ASAE EP363.1 DEC1982 (R2008) Technical Publications for Agricultural Equipment is a valuable engineering practice (somewhat below the status of a standard) in many cases since it provides recommendations on the content and formatting of operators’ manuals. Most large manufacturers do a good job on manuals, but many small companies do not. This engineering practice provides guidance for evaluating the safety content of manuals. An incomplete or poorly written manual may not be a major factor in a case, but can be used to demonstrate lack of safety commitment by the manufacturer.

In addition to these general safety standards, ASABE has issued many other standards dealing with specific agricultural and grounds maintenance machines including:

ASAE S355.3 DEC2002 Safety Practices for Agricultural Front-End Loaders
ASAE S474.1 FEB1999 (R2009) Agricultural Rotary Mower Safety
ASAE S361.3 APR1990 (R2005) Safety for Portable Agricultural Auger Conveying Equipment

There are many other ASABE standards that can be used in a given case, including those dealing with hitches, power take-offs (PTO), lighting, controls, etc. Several SAE and ASABE standards deal with overturn and overhead protection for tractors and related equipment:

SAE J1194 MAY1989 (R2008) Rollover Protective Structures (ROPS) for Wheeled Agricultural Tractors
SAE J2194 DEC1987 (R2008) Roll-Over Protective Structures (ROPS) for Wheeled Agricultural Tractors
SAE J167 JUL1970 (R2008) Overhead Protection for Agricultural Tractors – Test Procedures and Performance Requirements
ANSI/ASAE S478 SEP1995 (R2005) Roll-Over Protective Structures (ROPS) For Compact Utility Tractors

There is a trend within ASABE to coordinate standards with ISO, the international standards organization. Some ASABE standards have become ISO standards, and some ASABE standards have been dropped in deference to ISO standards. Some relevant ISO standards include the ISO 4254 series of standards on Agricultural Machinery Safety.

For grounds maintenance equipment, the ANSI B71 series is of primary interest. The most important standards in this series are ANSI B71.1, dealing with consumer turf care equipment, and ANSI B71.4, dealing with commercial turf care equipment. These are very comprehensive standards covering blade guarding, thrown objects, rollover/stability, burn hazards, etc. ANSI B71.1 incorporates the CPSC lawnmower standard. Other standards in the ANSI B71 series cover rotary tillers, snow throwers, log splitters, and shredder/grinders. Other ANSI standards cover equipment such as chainsaws.

At times it will be necessary to refer to standards from other organizations such as The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME). Also, some industry groups provide safety training information and use recommendations (not standards) that can be useful in cases involving agricultural and grounds maintenance equipment. These organizations include The Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM), The Farm Equipment Manufacturers Association (FEMA), and The Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI). Other organizations that provide safety information on agricultural and grounds maintenance equipment are The National Safety Council (NSC), The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), and the National Institute for Farm Safety (NIFS).

In some cases, there is not a standard specific to a particular machine. In this situation, it is often appropriate to refer to a standard for a similar machine and use the safety requirements of that standard to establish the state of the art for similar machines. For instance, requirements on Operator Presence Control (OPC) for walk-behind rotary tillers found in ANSI B71.8 can be applied to walk-behind stump grinders, for which there is no specific standard.

Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

Find an Expert Witness