The U.S. agriculture industry is essential to the livelihood of its citizens and the world. In 2015, there were approximately 2.07 million farms in the U.S. that included roughly 941 million acres in farm land and employed more than 1.19 million workers.
Unfortunately, agriculture still ranks among the most hazardous industries. Farmers and farm workers are at very high risk for fatal and nonfatal injuries; and farming is one of the few industries in which family members (who often share the work and live on the premises) are also at risk for fatal and nonfatal injuries.
The death rate for agricultural workers remains high when compared to other U.S. industries. The agriculture industry still is second only to mining in death rate per 100,000 workers.
USDA data for 2002 ranked the farming occupation second among selected occupations with a fatality rate of 28 deaths per 100,000 workers, behind only pilots and navigators. Farming also rated second in total number of fatalities in 2002 at 519, behind only truck drivers. Transportation incidents, which include tractor overturns were the leading cause of death for these farmers and farm workers.
Death rate data only includes persons 16 years or older. These data do not account for accidental deaths to minors, who constitute a significant portion of the agriculture industry labor force. For example, a 1998 report released by the Department of Health and Human Services indicated that more than 650,000 youth under the age of 16 worked on farms. In addition, an estimated 104 children per year under 20 years of age die of agricultural injuries on U.S. farms. That means that every 3.5 days, a child dies in an agriculture-related incident.
Of the leading sources of fatalities among all youth, 25 percent involved machinery, 17 percent involved motor vehicles (includes ATVs), and 16% were drownings. For working youth, tractors were the leading source of fatalities followed by ATVs.
The very nature of agricultural work presents an assortment and frequency of hazards not realized in other occupations. Farmers and ranchers, for example, often must work in extreme environmental conditions and often times alone, while operating machinery and equipment that require concentration and care to avoid serious injury. In addition, formalized worker training that includes recognizing potential hazards, injury prevention, and emergency response is rare on farm operations. Given these factors, the agriculture industry’s second highest death rate among major U.S. industry is not surprising.
Statistics show that agricultural workers have been and continue to be exposed to numerous workplace hazards. Data suggests that, given the large number and high injury/fatality rates of children and elderly farm workers, future priority must be placed on youth safety and accident prevention. Interestingly, farm safety researchers contend that communicating safety messages through venues that influence community leaders, such as through churches, banks, and other rural institutions, works better than safety education aimed directly at individual farmers who tune it out. Thus, using the influence of peer pressure provides an effective approach to change behaviors according to some farm safety researchers. This information came from a report “US Agriculture Fatality Statistics” by David W. Smith, Extension Safety Program, Texas AgriLife Extension Service.
Stacy Campbell is a Kansas State Research and Extension agent in Hays for the Cottonwood Extension District Office.