We recently published a guest article about farmers losing their lives on the job in Ireland.  Farmers all over the world have one of the most hazardous professions anywhere.  From those in third-world countries, to the ones with sophisticated equipment, there is still risk for injury and/or death in this occupation.

Farmers are at high risk for fatal and nonfatal injuries; it is one of the few industries where family members often share the work and live on the premises.  Many are migrant workers who may lack training or misunderstand the seriousness of the job, through language barriers.  NIOSH was developed in 1990 to create an agricultural safety and health program.  Through intramural research and funds, programs are developed at university centers in twenty states.  Programs such as these address injuries associated with agriculture, in addition to stress, musculosketal disorders, hearing loss, and pesticide exposure. 

In 2010, the U.S. had 1,823,000 full-time workers employed in production agriculture.  In 2009, an estimated 1.03 million young persons under 20 years of age resided on farms, with about 519,000 youth performing farm work.  An estimated 230,000 youth were hired to work on farms in addition to the ones who lived on the farms in 2009. 

Four hundred seventy-six farmers and farm workers died from  work-related injuries in 2010.  Tractor overturns were the leading cause of death for those involved.  Roll-Over Protective Structure (ROPS) are the most effective way to prevent tractor overturn deaths.  In 2006, 59 per cent of tractors used on the farms in the U.S. were equipped with ROPS. 

One hundred thirteen young persons (on average) die annually from farm-related injuries; most of these deaths happen to those age 16-19 years of age.  Sources of fatalaties were twenty-three  per cent from machinery (including tractors), nineteen percent involved motor vehicles (including ATVs), and sixteen per cent were due to drowning.

Around two hundred forty-three agricultural workers suffer a lost-work-injury.  At least five per cent of these leave permanent impairment.  In 2009, around 16,200 youth were hurt on farms; 3,400 were due to the actual farm work. 

Other risks that farmers are exposed to:

  • Getting kicked by animals;
  •  Work-related lung disease;
  • Prolonged sun exposure;
  • Skin diseases;
  • Hearing loss;
  • Certain cancers associated with chemical use.

The National Institute of Food and Agriculture supports the AgrAbility program, which reached newly disabled farmers and ranchers through education, assistance, and networking with on-farm assessments and assistive technology implementation on their worksites.  NIFA farm safety efforts work to assist farmers avoid workplace hazards, help those with disabilities remain employed and ensure equal access to the agriculture profession for all workers, regardless of background or ability.

Agricultural workers benefit from these efforts by increasing their knowledge of the hazards and changes in practices in order to reduce risk of exposure to those hazards.  This helps farmers remain economically competitive and safe in an often economically and physically challenging agricultural work environment.

Some of the personal protective equipment that farmers and their employees should have are good work gloves, safety glasses or goggles, knee pads, sunscreen, face masks when using pesticides or sprays, ear plugs, and a big, wide straw hat!

We thank our farmers for providing food for our tables and wish them successful harvests  in 2014.  Please stay safe.