By WALT WILLIAMS, Bozeman Chronicle Staff Writer

The state’s first two work-related ATV deaths in at least five years has promoted a state agency to advice employers to use caution when the job calls for four-wheelin’.

In its newsletter, the Montana State Fund reports it has seen a “dramatic increase” in workplace accidents involving all-terrain vehicles. The agency provides workers’ compensation and insurance for Montana businesses.

Actually, the number of ATV injury accidents have remained steady over the years, with 10 reported during a recent 12-month period.

But during that time there were two reported deaths, one in Lewistown and the other in the Miles City area.

“We’re being proactive and trying to prevent it before it happens,” Montana Fund spokeswoman Mary Boyle said about the advisory.

The deaths accounted for two of 10 work-related vehicle fatalities reported to the agency during that time frame, she said.

ATVs are used on farms and ranches for chores, where many of the work-related injuries occur. The Montana Farm Bureau also reports seeing a rise in ATV injuries on farms.

“ATVs have become an economical way to work on farms and ranches,” said Diana Alkire, the bureau’s farm safety program coordinator.

ATVs easier to use and cheaper than a horse and in many tasks – such as fixing fence – they have replaced the animal completely.

Men are more likely to get hurt than women while riding ATVs, Alkire said. However, children are another high risk group.

“We find that the biggest problem is we have kids riding them who are way too young,” she said.

Young children often use adult-sized ATVs that are too large and too powerful for them to control. Many also are not wearing helmets.

The bureau recommends that children 6 or older drive ATVs under 70 cc; children 12 and older drive ATVs ranging from 70 to 90 cc; and teens 16 years and older drive over 90 cc.

One way to tell if an ATV is too big for a child is for the child to stand on the footrests and grab the handgrips. There should be at least three inches between the seat and child’s rear.

Children ride ATVs more for fun than work. Two Montana State University researches report that less than 20 percent of children use ATVs for work purposes.

Kirk Astroth and Jeffrey Linkenbach recently compiled a 100-plus-page report on ATV safety and youth for the National 4-H Council.

Among other things, they report that children account for more than a third of ATV fatalities even though they only make up 14 percent of riders.

The problem has become so bad that some groups have suggested banning children from riding ATVs, Astroth said.

Not that he thinks that will work. Looking at other high risk activities, the researchers came up with three strategies that may help:

– In some cases, legislation regulating a high-risk activity has cut back on the number of injuries.

– Parents practicing safe behavior in front of the children is a major influence.

– Peer group pressure also seems to be successful in encouraging safe behavior.