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How safe is farm work (agriculture)?

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Farming and agriculture rely on a complicated, constantly moving infrastructure of processes and machinery to tend to and grow the foodstuffs that support the nation. Naturally, given the diverse nature of agricultural operations there are an equally wide range of hazards which await those engaged in farming.

Leading sources of fatal occupational injuries
Leading sources of fatal occupational injuries in the agriculture, forestry, and fishing industry, 1992-20011.
Leading causes of fatal occupational injuries
Leading causes of fatal occupational injuries in the agriculture, forestry, and fishing industry, 1992-19972.

According to data from NIOSH, the leading cause of death on the job for farm workers is machinery – specifically, motorized vehicles. This is followed by falls, as farms typically employ large structures that must be loaded and unloaded. Animals also pose a risk to those handling livestock. The fact that many farms employ general laborers to handle specialized tasks that have an element of danger associated with them increases the likelihood of a farming accident occurring.

Unintentional on-farm deaths of youths under age 20
Unintentional on-farm deaths of youths under age 20 by cause of death, 1982-19963.
Number of nonfatal occupational farming injuries
Number of nonfatal occupational farming injuries by leading sources of injury, 1993-19954.

The agricultural work force also often incorporates teenagers, either as summer laborers or as unskilled workers, and the high number of deaths suffered by those under the age of 20 with regards to machinery use speaks to their inexperience. Regardless of age, however, machinery use and livestock are the leading causes of non-fatal farming injuries.

Fatal occupational injuries
Fatal occupational injuries in the agriculture, forestry, and fishing industry by State, 1992-20005.
Fatal occupational injury rates
Fatal occupational injury rates in the agriculture, forestry, and fishing industry by State, 1992-20006.
Unintentional on-farm deaths
Unintentional on-farm deaths of youths under age 20 by State, 1982-19967.

There are no surprises to be found when it comes to examining the regional distribution of farming-related deaths. States with a heavy concentration of farms see far more fatal accidents than those that have few. While Texas may report a sizeable number of deaths per year, given the state’s population it is not out of the ordinary when examined per capita.

Number of nonfatal occupational farming injuries
Number of nonfatal occupational farming injuries by State, 1993-19958.
Rates of nonfatal occupational farming injuries
Rates of nonfatal occupational farming injuries by State, 1993-19959.

Geographic data concerning nonfatal accidents tells an identical tale.

Number of nonfatal occupational farming injuries
Number of nonfatal occupational farming injuries by type of farm operation, 1993-199510.
Rates of nonfatal occupational farming injuries
Rates of nonfatal occupational farming injuries by type of farm operation, 1993-199511.

The type of farming being performed is a critical aspect of evaluating the risk posed to workers. At first, it appears as though perhaps livestock are a greater threat than any other type of farming, given the overwhelming number of injuries reported by those types of farms each year. However, this statistical outlier is merely the result of the splitting of crop farms into various different categories, while cattle, hogs, and sheep are lumped together. Given the sheer size of the crop farm workforce, it is no surprise that per capita there is a slightly greater risk of occupational injury.

Animals and the outdoors add an extra dimension to farming that few other segments of the economy possess, and farming in general poses one of the greatest risks of death on the job thanks to a largely unskilled workforce and heavy mechanization.

1NIOSH 2004. Worker Health Chartbook 2004, NIOSH Publication No. 2004-146. Retrieved October 27, 2008 from http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2004-146/detail/imagedetail.asp@imgid264.htm
2NIOSH 2004. Worker Health Chartbook 2004, NIOSH Publication No. 2004-146. Retrieved October 27, 2008 from http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2004-146/detail/imagedetail.asp@imgid265.htm
3NIOSH 2004. Worker Health Chartbook 2004, NIOSH Publication No. 2004-146. Retrieved October 27, 2008 from http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2004-146/detail/imagedetail.asp@imgid269.htm
4NIOSH 2004. Worker Health Chartbook 2004, NIOSH Publication No. 2004-146. Retrieved October 27, 2008 from http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2004-146/detail/imagedetail.asp@imgid277.htm
5NIOSH 2004. Worker Health Chartbook 2004, NIOSH Publication No. 2004-146. Retrieved October 27, 2008 from http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2004-146/detail/imagedetail.asp@imgid266.htm
6NIOSH 2004. Worker Health Chartbook 2004, NIOSH Publication No. 2004-146. Retrieved October 27, 2008 from http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2004-146/detail/imagedetail.asp@imgid267.htm
7NIOSH 2004. Worker Health Chartbook 2004, NIOSH Publication No. 2004-146. Retrieved October 27, 2008 from http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2004-146/detail/imagedetail.asp@imgid270.htm
8NIOSH 2004. Worker Health Chartbook 2004, NIOSH Publication No. 2004-146. Retrieved October 27, 2008 from http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2004-146/detail/imagedetail.asp@imgid273.htm
9NIOSH 2004. Worker Health Chartbook 2004, NIOSH Publication No. 2004-146. Retrieved October 27, 2008 from http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2004-146/detail/imagedetail.asp@imgid274.htm
10NIOSH 2004. Worker Health Chartbook 2004, NIOSH Publication No. 2004-146. Retrieved October 27, 2008 from http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2004-146/detail/imagedetail.asp@imgid275.htm
11NIOSH 2004. Worker Health Chartbook 2004, NIOSH Publication No. 2004-146. Retrieved October 27, 2008 from http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2004-146/detail/imagedetail.asp@imgid276.htm

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