Farm fatalities may have been down in 2011 vs. 2010, and it's way too early to even hazard a guess on 2012 numbers, but it's not too early to remind people that farming is still a dangerous occupation. That's the word from Bill Field, Purdue University Extension farm safety specialist.
Only about 1% of the U.S. population farms, but agriculture accounted for about 13% of the fatalities in the workplace in 2011. The trend is in the right direction, but there is still a ways to go, he believes.
"Education and newer, safer equipment are helping," Field observes. "Much of the older equipment that didn't have as many safety features is being retired."
Tractor overturns are a leading cause of accidents and deaths every year. It's one reason that a mock tractor overturn accident rescue will be featured on the cover of Indiana Prairie Farmer in December. The mock rescue by the Wabash Township Fire Department at a safety forum this fall illustrated how fine the line is between life and death once and accident involving a tractor overturn occurs. Even if a rescue team is knowledgeable and well-equipped, rescues can be tricky situations.
One part of the farm safety equation that doesn't get enough press, Field believes, is the number of injuries that occur on Indiana farms each year. There is no required reporting of fatalities or injuries. Field believes the number of people injured in farm accidents can run as high as 7,000 annually in Indiana. This is anything from a Band-Aid injury to a life-threatening situation.
What people don't see, Field says, is the pain and suffering associated with the more serious injuries. Some people wind up crippled for life. The injury can change a person's lifestyle, and can result in lost work time and astronomical medical bills. More farm families and farm people are affected by injuries than by farm fatalities in any one year in Indiana, and the vast majority of them go unnoticed. Newspapers primarily report fatalities, not serious injuries.