Harvest in the Midwest continues to move at a fast clip with many areas unfazed by any kind of weather delays. With all that equipment on the county roads and in Indiana farm fields, Bill Field at Purdue is optimistic for a relatively safe harvest season once it has wrapped up.
“Boy it looks like it is moving really fast,” he told HAT. “The weather has been incredible and there has been an awfully lot accomplished over the last couple of weeks. I think we’re going to see a fairly safe harvest. I know there have been a couple of incidents but overall the number of cases we’ve seen this year compared to last year when we had so much water and mud, I think it’s going to be a lot better year.”
Field is with Purdue’s Agricultural Safety and Health Program and the new 2014 Indiana Farm Fatality Summary has just been released. The big issue leading to deaths on the farm continues to be tractor overturns.
“You look at the data over the years and overturning of tractors are the number one killer on farms today and they attribute to an awful lot of very serious injuries, entrapments under machines. But if you look at the data you’ll be amazed by how many of them are over the age of 60 and how old some of the victims are. And they’re operating typically older machines doing mundane chores around the farm. It just exposes them to a high risk of overturn.”
About a third last year in Indiana were the result of incidents involving overturned tractors, and 16 involved farm machinery of some kind.
Other fatalities were caused by burning brush, barn fires, asphyxiation from smoke inhalation, a head injury from livestock, falling trees and an accidental drowning.
There were 25 farm-related deaths in Indiana last year. That’s an increase over the 18 in 2013 but the report explains that a downward trend in the frequency of Indiana farm-related deaths since 1970 continues. Contributing to that trend, the authors said, may be the decline in the number of people employed on farms, improved safety features in new machinery and reduced dependency on child and other youth labor.
“Achieving zero incidents may be an unrealistic goal, but the record clearly shows that something is working and that many tragic incidents have been prevented during the same time as Indiana farmers have become more productive and efficient than at any time in history,” said the authors, Bill Field, Purdue Extension safety specialist, and agricultural and biological engineering graduate research assistant Yuan-Hsin Cheng.
The estimated fatality rate of 17.5 per 100,000 Indiana farm workers in 2014 compares with an estimated national death rate of 25.4 per 100,000 for those engaged in agricultural production.
The authors said two people under the age of 21 died in agricultural workplaces, continuing a decline in deaths of children and young adults.
There were 17 deaths of farm workers over the age of 60, also continuing a trend of that age group accounting for a disproportionate number of deaths. The average age of all farm victims was 62.4. That is higher than the average age of farmers in Indiana – 58.
The figures were compiled using a news clipping service, Web searches, voluntary reporting from Purdue Extension educators and personal interviews.
The figures did not include fatalities resulting from accidents involving farm trucks, heart attacks during work and deaths caused by medical complications from workplace health hazards.
The authors said lack of consistency in causes of fatalities makes targeting of prevention resources difficult, other than in tractor-related incidents where rollover protective structures could help.
Based on the most recent agricultural census data, the increasing number of small farms – including part-time and hobby farms – is an important change occurring in rural communities. The report said a review of fatality data over the last few years suggests that these smaller operations account for a disproportionate share of all documented fatalities, with use of older machinery with fewer safety features a significant contributing factor.
The summary also included data on treated farm-related, non-fatal injuries. There were about 6,500 such injuries, a decline from previous years. But the report stressed that such injuries often go unreported.
Even with that decline, the report indicated that the economic impact of injuries has been on the rise because of increases in medical and rehabilitation costs. This can be a problem especially for farm families who do not have sufficient health care insurance or have very high deductibles, the authors said.
The impact of the federal government’s Affordable Health Care Act on farm families remains unclear, but the authors said provisions should benefit those farm families who currently have limited access to health care insurance.
Those interested in learning more or supporting the work of Purdue’s Agricultural Safety and Health Program or the Indiana Rural Safety and Health Council can call 765-494-1191 or visit www.farmsafety.org.