The tragedy of an agricultural death or injury can cause the personal loss of a friend or family member. It also causes an economic and social burden when a productive member of a community is incapacitated or dies.
"Safety Counts—Your Community Depends on It" is the theme for this year's National Farm Safety and Health Week, Sept. 18-24.
The nine-state Upper Midwest experiences almost 200 agricultural deaths per year and about 20,000 disabling injuries, based on figures from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. In Minnesota, about two dozen fatalities are attributed to traumatic, farm-related injuries each year.
A review of data collected by the Greater Plains Center for Agricultural Health, a NIOSH-funded agricultural center, shows that the causes of injury and death have remained similar over the years. The majority of fatalities are from:
tractors that overturn without rollover protection
being struck by, or entangled in, machinery in operation or during maintenance falls
suffocating in a flowing grain bin
farm equipment colliding with other vehicles on rural roadways
News media reports compiled by GPCAH during 2011 describe some tragedies already this year in Minnesota. In Windom, Sebeka and Freeport counties, there were entanglements in power takeoff driven shafts. Fatalities involved skid steers in Lake and Benton counties. Farm equipment collisions occurred in Hallock, Kellogg and Dent. One death was caused by livestock trampling.
In addition to the personal and family losses resulting from these deaths and injuries, there are costs associated with medical care, lost productivity and intangible societal losses. A study published in 2001 showed that agricultural occupational injuries cost an estimated $4.57 billion per year in the U.S.
This year's National Farm Safety and Health Week provides an opportunity to focus on that fact that farm safety begins with us. We can work together to prevent injuries and deaths.
-By Katherine Waters, agricultural health and safety educator and food systems program leader, University of Minnesota Extension, and Murray Madsen, former associate director of the Great Plains Center for Agricultural Health.