By Dee Jepsen
Have you ever had to describe “agricultural work” to anyone not familiar with the day-to-day, season-to-season functions of a farm? It is difficult to explain the types of tasks, the type of equipment, and the varying schedules that farm life demands. The occupational pressures of tending to the land, crops and livestock is different than other workplace pressures. The same can be true for describing the variation in the workforce, including different occupational hazards that other industry workers do not experience.
Agriculture is one of the three top hazardous industries.
In the U.S., agriculture is considered one of the most hazardous industries to work. The data collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics consistently lists agriculture, along with construction and mining, as the top three hazardous industries. Agriculture is broadly defined and includes occupations of farming, fishing and forestry in the statistical counts. With approximately 2% of the U.S. population involved in production agriculture, it’s difficult to lose any worker while on the job. Yet, across the nation ag workers are regularly exposed to machinery, confined spaces, chemicals and biological pathogens, and extreme weather conditions that impact their safety and well-being.
Farming involves workers of all ages. Farming is a lifestyle as much as it is an occupation. The agricultural industry accommodates workers of all ages. In very few occupations can you find young children and retired seniors working together. With this wide age spread, occupational injuries are different in agriculture than in other industries simply because the workforce age is extended on each end of the spectrum.
Ohio farm fatalities
Overall, the fatality rates on Ohio farms continue to show a steady decline. Over a 10-year period, an average of 12 farm family members die while working in production agriculture. Another 14,000 farm workers sustain injuries while doing farm chores. To see more information about Ohio farm injury data, visit the Ag Safety Program website at agsafety.osu.edu/statistics.
Fatalities from tractors and machinery are Ohio’s most serious concern. Together, these two categories account for nearly 60% of Ohio farm deaths. Of the tractor-related casualities, rollovers are the predominate factor (53%), followed by runovers (22%), roadway collisions (14%), PTO and other factors (11%).
In the past 10 years, confined spaces fatalities have increased in Ohio, accounting for 7% of farm-related deaths. An agricultural confined space can include grain bins, silos, manure pits, wells, and other enclosed structures with limited Oxygen or toxic air. The gases within these spaces are invisible with their own unique characteristics. Oftentimes it just takes one to two breaths of bad air to produce ill effects on the body. Safety resources to increase the awareness about these deadly gases can be found on the Ag Safety Program website at agsafety.osu.edu/program-areas/confined-space. Additional information will be posted on this website, including silo harvesting safety messages.
The Ohio State University’s Agricultural Safety Program tracks farm fatalities that occur in the state. This data is used to guide injury prevention programs and applied research.
You can help promote National Farm Safety and Health Week, Sept. 19 to Sept. 25. Resources are available on the OSU Ag Safety & Health Facebook page to share within the community, or to talk one-on-one with farm workers. To request a training program in your area, please contact our program staff.
Dee Jepsen, Professor, can be reached at 614-292-6008 or email@example.com. This column is provided by the OSU Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering.