Rural Agricultural Health and Safety
Agriculture is one of the most hazardous industries in the United States. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), of the 1,854,000 full-time workers employed in production agriculture in 2012, 374 farmers and farmworkers died from a work-related injury for, a fatality rate of 20.2 deaths per 100,000 workers. During that same year, agricultural workers experienced 167 non-fatal injuries daily, with 5% of these injuries causing a permanent disability. Tractor rollovers were the leading cause of death, but many other hazards exist on the farm.
Agriculture is different from most industries in that it can also present hazards to people not actively involved in the industry, such as family members living on the farm and visitors. Additionally, hazards may exist for emergency medical services personnel and other healthcare professionals as they provide assistance and care to victims of farm accidents.
Frequently Asked Questions
- What chronic and acute health risks are farmers and farmworkers exposed to?
- How many children are involved in agricultural injuries? What resources are available related to preventing farm accidents among children and youth?
- Which local agencies can help support the development of an agricultural health and safety program?
- What federal agencies focus on agricultural health and safety?
- Are there funding sources available for nonprofits to support agricultural health and safety programs?
- What programs or resources are available that can assist agricultural employers to develop safety measures to protect their employees?
- Are resources available that provide special training to healthcare personnel when treating farm injuries and chemical exposures?
What chronic and acute health risks are farmers and farmworkers exposed to?
Health risks for farmers and farmworkers include:
- Exposure to farm chemicals, such as pesticides and fertilizers, as well as toxic gases which may be produced from common farm practices like manure decomposition and silo crop storage
- Exposure to high levels of dust, which can contain mold, bacteria, and animal droppings, among other things
- Falls from ladders, farm equipment, grain bins, or other heights
- Exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun, which can result in skin cancer
- Joint and ligament injuries, which can result in arthritic conditions affecting mobility
- Exposure to loud noises and sounds from machinery and equipment which can result in hearing loss
- Stress from droughts, floods, pests, long hours, financial concerns, and feelings of isolation and frustration
- Risk of suffocation in a grain bin if a person is engulfed by the grain
- Risk of heatstroke, frostbite, or hypothermia from working outside in extreme weather conditions
- Risk of injury from operating farm equipment and motorized vehicles
- Risk of injury from working with livestock
- Risk of electrocution to persons operating large equipment that can contact overhead power lines
How many children are involved in agricultural injuries? What resources are available related to preventing farm accidents among children and youth?
Injuries to children that occur on farms are considered agricultural injuries, whether or not the child was actively involved in farming at the time. Children who might be injured on farms include youth hired to work on the farm, farm children actively involved in the farming operations, farm children not involved in farming operations, and even children who are visiting the farm. Hazards for children on the farm include animals, farm equipment, grain bins, heights, ponds/water, chemicals/gases, all-terrain vehicles, and many others.
The Childhood Agricultural Injury Survey is a national survey of farm operators which collects information about youth under 20 living and working on farms, including any injuries to those children. According to the survey results, falls are the leading cause of injury for rural children, followed by contact with objects, and transportation-related injuries. The results also reveal that the incidence of injuries to youth from farm accidents has decreased since 2001.
|Number of Youth (<20) Living and Working on US Farms|
|Household (lives on farm)||1,352,948||1,256,989||1,121,392||1,033,803||955,406|
|Household youth also working on farm (%)||54%||56%||53%||50%||49%|
|Estimates of Farm Injuries to Youth (<20) by Type|
|Other working youth||2,948||1,772||2,301||993||1,416|
|Injuries to household youth where child was working (%)||30%||34%||31%||34%||17%|
|Estimates of Farm Injuries to Youth (<20) by Age Group|
Fatalities also occur as a result of child farm accidents. According to the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the numbers of agricultural fatalities for youth under 20 years of age ranged from 20-31 in the years 2011-2013. The 2014 Fact Sheet: Childhood Agricultural Injuries in the U.S. lists machinery accidents, motor vehicles, and drowning as being the main causes of death.
The following resources provide tips, information, and assistance related to the safety of youth working in agriculture, as well as those that live on or visit farms:
- Youth in Agriculture – Resource from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) which identifies common agricultural hazards and provides safety solutions for employers and young workers to prevent accidents and avoid injury in agricultural related jobs.
- Childhood Agricultural Injury Prevention Initiative – NIOSH resource which raises awareness about childhood agricultural injury, and develops and encourages the use of prevention strategies.
- National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety – Provides technical assistance and resources regarding children and adolescents living in rural areas and working in agriculture. Funded by NIOSH.
Which local agencies can help support the development of an agricultural health and safety program?
Local and county cooperative extension offices and public health offices often can provide resources to develop an agricultural health and safety program. Contact your state or territorial health department or use this directory of local health departments to find the local public health office in your area.
State resources that support research and education on agricultural health and safety can be found in the General Resources section of the OSHA website.
Also, local service clubs and faith-based organizations may provide some assistance with the development of an agricultural health and safety program.
What federal agencies focus on agricultural health and safety?
Several federal agencies concentrate on agricultural health and safety issues:
The USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Farm Safety program supports Cooperative Extension Service programs that promote safety by training workers in appropriate field practices, safe use of equipment, and proper maintenance of equipment.
CDC’s NIOSH Centers for Agricultural Disease and Injury Research, Education, and Prevention promotes the health and safety of agricultural workers and their families.
The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) supports safe and healthful working conditions by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, and education.
Are there funding sources available for nonprofits to support agricultural health and safety programs?
A current list of federal, state and foundation grants and programs supporting the development of agricultural health and safety projects is available by visiting the Funding & Opportunities section of this guide.
What programs or resources are available that can assist agricultural employers to develop safety measures to protect their employees?
The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) Agricultural Operations provides a variety of resources and statistics on the hazards of working in agriculture.
USDA–NIFA’s Cooperative Extension System is an educational network providing practical, research-based information to agricultural producers, small business owners, youth, consumers, and rural communities nationwide.
NIOSH Agricultural Safety and Health Centers conduct research, education, and prevention projects that support the health and safety of agricultural workers.
The National Center for Farmworker Health is a private, not-for-profit organization providing information, training, and technical assistance on agricultural safety and health.
The National Education Center for Agricultural Safety provides education and training focused on promoting safety, and preventing illnesses, injuries, and deaths among farmers and ranchers, agricultural and horticultural workers, their families, and their employees.
The American Society of Safety Engineers Agricultural Branch – Farm Safety Tips provides safety resources and a networking forum for safety professionals involved in agriculture.
Are resources available that provide special training to healthcare personnel when treating farm injuries and chemical exposures?
In rural areas where agriculture is common, first responders and healthcare personnel must be prepared to treat agricultural injuries. In addition to providing proper care to the patient, personnel must be able to identify when hazards exist for themselves. For instance, if EMS personnel respond to a grain bin engulfment, they must be careful to avoid becoming engulfed. Likewise, if a farmworker presents at the emergency room due to chemical exposure, proper protocols should be used to ensure that healthcare workers aren't also exposed.
Several national organizations provide training on agricultural medicine to healthcare personnel, including:
AgriSafe Network offers an AgroMedicine Core Course providing the skills necessary for health and safety professionals to diagnose and prevent occupational illnesses and injuries among agricultural workers.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) National Agricultural Center and the Medical University of South Carolina published the Recognition and Management of Pesticide Poisonings manual giving healthcare providers a reference source on toxicology and for treating patients with exposure to pesticides.