Agriculture – Most Hazardous?

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AG – The most hazardous industry in the nation

Even with the reduced exposure of people to farms and farming operations, the National Safety Council reports fatality rates for those engaged in agriculture are at least 6 times higher than for all other industries.

In the mid-1930’s, at the peak of US agricultural labor supply, more than 30 percent of all Americans were living on farms and were involved in cultivation or grazing of just over 1.2 billion acres of land. Even during the drought year of 1934 agriculture produced $9.5 billion.[i]

The population of the US, according to the US Census, was 127 million at the time; therefore, over 38 million people lived on farms. One person, living on a farm, was exposed to farming operations at a ratio of approximately 1 person per 32 acres of land.

By comparison, in 2007 U.S. farms sold $297 billion in agricultural ‎products.[ii]  Now, there are over 313 million people living in the US with less than 1% claiming farming as an occupation and less than 2% actually live on farms.[iii] Including 1 million youth, roughly 6.3 million people in the US are living on farms. Farmland has been cut back to 914 million acres. A person’s exposure, if living on a farm today, has been diluted to roughly 1 person per 145 acres of farmland.

There have also been other changes in farming practices since the 1930’s that have allowed for greater operational efficiencies and reduced exposure to farm operations. People spend much less time farming then they used to. With greater mechanization and chemical developments, technology has also contributed to the reduction of labor required to produce farm commodities. In a century of farming, the US labor efficiency has gone from 27.5 acres/worker in 1890 to 740 acres/worker in 1990; source (EPA Illinois data; Hunt, 2001)iii.

Death rates for agriculture currently range from 22-26 per 100,000 workers compared to an average of roughly 3.8 per 100,000 workers for the rest of industry.[iv],vi

Sadly, since young workers generally live on the farms where they work, agriculture also has the second highest fatality rate among youth workers at 21.3 per 100,000 full-time equivalents compared to 3.6 per 100,000 across all industries. [v]

The leading source of fatal injuries for those living on a farm is machinery. Tractors are the leading cause of fatalities in agriculture.

Non-fatal injuries occur for adult farm workers at a rate of 9.2 injuries every hour.[vi] While injuries to youth living on farms are trending downward, due largely to an aging farm population, injuries still range at 8.4 to 11.9 per 1000 among youth. Livestock, as opposed to “crop only”, operations account for higher number of injuries in this group.[vii]

The National Safety Council confirms that agriculture is still the most hazardous industry in the nation, just ahead of mining.



[i] “Farmers and the Great Depression.” American Decades. 2001. Encyclopedia.com. (October 31, 2013). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3468301232.html

 

[ii] “Revenues” Economics, Ag101, Agriculture, EPA Home, 2013. epa.com  (October 31, 2013), http://www.epa.gov/agriculture/ag101/econrevenues.html

 

[iii] “Demographics” Ag101, Agriculture, EPA Home, 2013. epa.com  (October 31, 2013), http://www.epa.gov/agriculture/ag101/demographics.html

 

[iv] “Risk Factors for Agricultural Injury Hearing impairment increases likelihood of farm injuries.” Agricultural Health Study, 2003. agheath.org (October 31, 2013), http://aghealth.nih.gov/results/IAAgInjuries2003.pdf

 

[v] Occupational Injuries and Deaths Among Younger Workers-United States, 1998-2007. Journal of the American Medical Association, 304 (1), 33-35 (2010)

 

[vi] “Worker Safety on the Farm” Center for Disease Control and Prevention, April 2010. cdc.gov. (October 31, 2013), http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2010-137/

 

[vii] “2011 Fact Sheet Childhood Agricultural Injuries” National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Heath and Safety, January 2011.  (October 31, 2013), http://www3.marshfieldclinic.org/proxy/MCRF-Centers-NFMC-NCCRAHS-ChildAgInjuryFactSheet_Jan-2011.1.pdf