Bill Field has served as ag safety specialist in Indiana for more than 30 years. Since he came to Purdue University as an Extension ag engineer and began developing farm safety education and training programs, the average annual death rate for farmers and farm workers killed in farm accidents ahs declined. But 2007 was an upward blip on the radar screen.
"From the long-term point of view since I've been here, it's still clear that the number of deaths per year caused by farm accidents is declining, over time," Field says. "Unfortunately, there were more deaths last year than the year before."
The 2006 year featured one of the lowest number of farmers or farm workers killed in Indiana's history, with only eight deaths reported to Field's staff. While there is not an official count of farm accidental deaths, Field and his staff maintain a clipping service and do the best job possible to collect information about each fatal farm accident each year. One reason for keeping the statistics is to watch for things that might be occurring that could be remedied.
The unofficial number of deaths in '07 released in a preliminary report, Field says, is 24. However, that number could go up as others review the report. Sometimes a farmer or farm worker transported to an out-of-state hospital, who later dies, isn't always included in the original count, depending upon how the local paper in his area reports or doesn't report the incident.
Field is disappointed, but not panicked by the three-fold increase from '06 to '07. The '06 number was extremely low. The 24 killed in '07 is still lower than many of the 30-plus years Field has served as ag safety director at Purdue.
As to causes, Field says it's too early to know for sure. There seems to be the usual number of accidents involving tractors. Year in and year-out, accidents with tractors remains as one of the major causes of farm accidents and farm deaths.
Even though grain bin entrapment received major publicity last year, especially with the tragic, well-publicized death of a Johnson County farmer, Field says there is not a big run-up in the number of those kinds of accidents and deaths. Nevertheless, the grain tube Purdue has helped test is now being sold commercially. About 40 have been sold, many to local industry and the rest to local volunteer fire departments in areas where a grain bin entrapment has occurred recently.
For now, the best advice is to remember that farming is still a dangerous occupation, Field notes. Even incidences of death by bulls are on the increase. So think safety wherever you are, whatever you're doing.