Farm fatalities spiked in 2016

There were 44 confirmed farm-related fatalities in 2016, the third highest over the past 47 years of record keeping. This data was reported in the 2016 Indiana Farm Fatality Summary with Historical Overview, by Purdue University’s Agricultural Safety and Health Program in the Agricultural and Biological Engineering Department. The program has been monitoring farm-related fatalities in Indiana for over 55 years.

The authors pointed out that the 44 cases represent the third year with an increase in number of cases and represents a significant jump above the 10-year average of 25.3 fatalities per year. It was also the third highest number documented over the past 47 years.

Incidents involving those 60 and over now account for nearly half of all documented cases in the past five years, including 15, or 33 percent in 2016.

Accidents involving tractors comprised the single largest category of fatalities, representing as much as 75 percent of all documented cases in some years. Roll-over protective structures have been standard equipment on new tractors since 1985. However, many tractor operators still don’t wear a seat belt.

Tractors and machinery incidents have a growing number involving cutting and trimming trees and small and part-time farmers using older equipment. There were 15 cases involving individuals over the age of 60, including five over the age of 80.

Four female fatalities were documented in 2016, two over the age of 60, and two were under the age of 10.

The Amish/Old Order communities in the state still account for a disproportionate share of farm-related deaths.

Historically, the counties with the most documented fatalities were Elkhart, LaGrange, Greene and St. Joseph. From 1980-2016, nine fatalities were recorded in Noble County, and 10 in Whitley County.

The authors stated that no specific factors have been identified that has contributed to the reoccurring spikes in frequency of farm related fatalities since 1970.

The age of the victims in 2016 ranged from 4 to 93, and averaged 50, which is lower than the average age of Indiana farmers, currently at 55.8. Along with 2015, this is the second year in recent years with a drop in the average age of victims.

One encouraging statistic is that the number of fatalities involving children and youth 1-7 years old have continued to decline. Tragically, however, there were four such cases in 2016.

The overall decline in the number of children and young adults being reported as dying in agricultural work places is an extremely positive trend. The authors stated, “It is believed that the changing expectations of parents and the general public towards having children and youth employed in some types of farm work, considered especially hazardous, has had a significant influence on the continuing downward trend in fatalities involving this group.” Greater compliance with child safety related regulations may also be a factor.

Indiana ranks number one historically in the number of documented grain entrapments. However, the authors stated it is believed that the high national ranking for this type of fatality has more to do with the aggressive nature of Purdue’s surveillance efforts in Indiana rather than the actual number of incidents that occur in other states.

The authors estimated that one out of every 1,307 farms experienced a farm-related fatality in 2016. This translates to 30.8 deaths per 100,000 workers. Nationwide, the estimated fatality rate was 22.8 per 100,000 in agricultural production, and 3.4 deaths per 100,000 workers in all industries.

Find the full 2016 report at farmsafety.org, and additional resources at engineering.purdue.edu/~agsafety/ASH/.

John Woodmansee is an extension educator in Whitley and Noble counties

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