Farming: A demanding and Potentially Hazardous Occupation

“If you ate today, thank a farmer.”

Agriculture is among the most hazardous occupations. It is, perhaps, the only industry where eight-year-olds and eighty-year-olds work in the same profession, side by side, operating large pieces of equipment. The death rate is four times that of all other industries combined. Because this form of work is so physically demanding, it is little wonder that the injury and fatality rates are so high.

Surprisingly, the number of farm-accident fatalities is not declining in proportion to the decline in farm population, partly because of the increasing average age of people on farms. The annual mortality from farm accidents is estimated at 60 to 70 per 100,000 of farm population.

Farms are isolated, with little supervision of work and not much opportunity for an injured person to obtain first aid promptly. The high rate of accidents to farmers is also related to the pattern of farm work, which is more of a family job running more around the clock than the job of a wage earner in town. As would be expected, farm accidents are at their peak in June, July, and August–the most active period of crop production and harvest.

Here are the top 7 most common farming accidents that result in injury or death:

  1. Overturning tractors and heavy machineryTractors and other kinds of farm equipment is notoriously heavy and difficult to operate. Because of this fact, tractors overturning is the most common cause of farmworker fatality. In fact, the U.S. Department of Labor estimates that over 44% of all farming accidents involve some kind of tractor rollover.
  2. FallsFrom standing on silos to scaling barns, there are many situations where farmworkers need to work at great heights. Unfortunately, this means that falls from heights are some of the most common farming accidents, leaving farmers with broken bones, traumatic brain injuries, and many other severe injuries.
  3. Toxic chemical exposure to pesticidesNext to tractors overturning and falls, injuries from toxic chemical exposure lead the pack for farming accidents. Most often, long-term use of and exposure to certain pesticides can cause breathing problems, skin rashes, vomiting, and “farmer’s lung.”
  4. SuffocationMany fatal farming accidents are linked to suffocation and asphyxiation. Aside from the constant risk of working around full grain bins, farming buildings also tend to have low levels of ventilation, which can lead to a lack of oxygen.
  5. Heat stressWorking out in the hot sun or in a heated environment is not just uncomfortable, it can be deadly. Heat stress can lead to dizziness, dehydration, heat cramps, heart problems, and heat stroke, especially in workers approaching the age of 65.
  6. Limbs crushed in agricultural machineryLike tractor overturning accidents, entanglements in heavy machinery cause a significant amount of injuries and even fatalities each year. Limbs, fingers, and other extremities can easily get caught in the complex gear, chain, PTO, and pulley mechanisms of farm equipment.
  7. Animal-related injuriesAlthough not quite as frequent as some of the other items on this list, animal injuries are also a regular occurrence in the farming industry, and they are also more likely to result in traumatic brain injuries than other agricultural injuries.

It is easy for many of us who are not directly connected to farming to take for granted what it takes to provide us with the variety and bounty of the food we have. Coming from a family of farmers, I can recall my grandparents leaving family gatherings early to go home to milk their cows. I also remember shaking hands, nothing less than a firm handshake, with the farmers in our small country church who were missing all or parts of their fingers, and the fingers that they did have been permanently tattooed with grease. Despite their sacrifices of time and body, they were a prideful, happy, and humble group of people. So, as we head into this year’s harvest, let us be mindful and appreciative of those who dedicate their lives to providing us with our food.

“God said, ‘I need somebody willing to get up before dawn, milk cows, work all day in the fields, milk cows again, eat supper and then go to town and stay past midnight at a meeting of the school board. ‘ So God made a farmer.” Paul Harvey

**Stay tuned next week for a short video featuring a day in the life of an 11-year old Red River Valley farmer

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