Despite farm safety being a priority for farmers and ranchers, accidents are unavoidable. Penn State researchers have found that the agriculture industry is even more dangerous than previously thought based on a study they conducted using emergency room admission data over a recent five-year period.
Approximately 60,000 nonfatal injuries related to farming were treated in emergency rooms between January 1, 2015, and December 31, 2019. Judd Michael, a professor in the College of Agricultural Sciences’ Agricultural Safety and Health Department and professor of agricultural and biological engineering, says that nearly one-third of the injury victims were youths.
In his opinion, the study revealed the true extent of the problem of injury caused by agricultural products. It was alarming to learn of the total number of injuries on farms, and the number of young people was particularly concerning.
Michael noted that before this research, the available sources of information did not provide a complete picture of nonfatal agricultural injuries. According to him, most of the existing data was collected through regional or national periodic surveys.
Through its Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses, also called the SOII, the Bureau of Labor Statistics collects and analyzes only nonfatal occupational injuries.
Surveys collect data on occupational diseases and disabilities among employees in all U.S. industries. However, the data does not include self-employed workers, family members, or individuals with farms employing fewer than 11 people.
“As a result, about 78 percent of occupational injuries and illnesses in agriculture went unaccounted”, Michael said.
To reach their conclusion, the researchers used data from the NEISSCPSC, which collected data from emergency department patients treated over five years.
The researchers created a unique picture of one of the country’s most dangerous occupations by looking for all cases with the location code “farm,” and a narrative search using the relevant terms.
It is estimated that 62,079 injured people sought treatment in emergency departments due to agricultural causes during this period. With an age range of 1 to 95, the median age in this population was 39 years.
There were more than 2/3 of male patients, and almost 80% were natives. The proportion of injured youths and seniors was about 30 percent and 22 percent. The average worker does not typically work in these age groups, but the average farmer does.
The Journal of Agrimedicine recently published findings showing that most injuries occur between April and September. Fractures and open wounds or amputations are the most common injuries. A majority of the injuries occurred to tractors, which were the most prevalent vehicles.
According to Michael, researchers have long known that young people are at greater risk of injuries around farmland and ag environments, but that does not necessarily mean they work. Kids are exposed to danger when they are present on family farms.
“A small farm is often a family-oriented business, and the entire family contributes to its success”, said the farm owner. “Children who help out at the farm or go on excursions regularly are exposed to hazards they may not fully comprehend or know how to react to. However, hazardous situations are not obvious to them. Sometimes, such circumstances lead to serious injuries or even death”.
To reduce accidents, Michael stated that a better understanding of the number and type of agricultural injuries is essential.
As the Nationwide Insurance Professor, I emphasize that we need to know the causes of injuries and fatalities because the agricultural and forestry industries are among the most dangerous in the U.S.
Abbreviations: NEISSCPSC = National Electronic Injury Surveillance System of the Consumer Product Safety Commission