Police officers, firefighters, heavy machine operators — those are all jobs where danger is an accepted part of the experience. They realize the risks, and most of us are aware of the potential injuries or even death that come with the paycheck.
But what most of us don’t realize is that there is an even more dangerous line of work: Farming.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ annual National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries report, released in January, showed that farmers and workers in agriculture-related fields are in harm’s way every day. According to the report, 5,147 Americans died on the job in 2017, the most recent year where complete statistics are available.
Miscellaneous agricultural workers ranked 11th overall, with 154 fatal injuries — an average of 17.7 per 100,000 workers — and 13,500 non-fatal injuries. In addition to the danger of these jobs, they are not well-paid, with the median average income being $23,710.
Transportation incidents, often in motorized off-road vehicles such as tractors, are especially deadly. Farmers, ranchers and ag managers are in an even more deadly position, with 258 fatal incidents in 2017, along with 180 non-fatal injuries, ranking them eighth overall. That means that almost 59 percent of farmer incidents were deadly, a horrifying statistic.
Why? Farmers work with large machinery as well as tools that can turn from helpful to harmful in the blink of an eye. We learned of three such incidents in the area in the past week.
Ned DeBoer of rural Sibley was killed in a rollover accident Monday evening while raking hay northeast of Sibley, according to the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office. The 49-year-old was trapped beneath the tractor when a wheel fell into a culvert, toppling the vehicle. It was a sadly all-too-familiar incident.
Gary Jungjohan of rural Sutherland was killed on July 10 when the 4020 John Deere tractor he was driving overturned as he mowed the north shoulder of 420th Street north of Sutherland.
It was work the 78-year-old man had likely done many times. The danger was always there, but this time, it struck. Overturned tractors are the deadliest event on our farms as the massive vehicle traps farmers beneath them.
Eugene Waack, a 74-year-old Tea, SD, man, was killed Sunday when his tractor — an antique 1930 Minneapolis Moline — rolled over on him northwest of Tea, a small town south of Sioux Falls, as he mowed a ditch.
It’s not just tractors. Craig Thoennes, 41, of Parkers Prairie, MN, was found dead near a bull and two cows on Sunday at his farm southwest of Parkers Prairie in Otter Tail County in the west-central part of the state. According to the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, Thoennes was apparently trampled by livestock.
We see deadly accidents in grain bins most years, too. Loose clothing around power equipment is a hazard. There are other risks as well. How safe is your farm?
Anyone who lived and worked on a farm can share a story or two with you. Farmers often work alone, meaning no one can rescue them or sound the alarm. Increasingly, farmers are growing older, with the average Iowa farmer in his late 50s. Reactions slow, especially when producers are putting in long days.
“Farmers are nearly twice as likely to die on the job as police officers are, five times as likely as firefighters, and 73 times as likely as Wall Street bankers,” according to a 2017 Politico report titled “Your farm is trying to kill you.”
Steps can — and must be taken. Farmers need to add a rollover protection device, deploying a metal bar in inverted U-shape placed behind the driver, which could be a lifesaver. Put a cab on it. Let that last piece of hay on the hillside go.
They could avoid long hours — DeBoer was found at 2:45 a.m. Tuesday — and hire help as needed. That’s easy to say, but difficult to do in a time when workers are scarce and farm income, battered by low commodity prices and a new trade war, is reduced.
Farmers often are deeply opposed to government regulation, and their organizations battle efforts to enforce safety rules. The price they pay for this is great.
But what is the real cost? How much is protecting yourself or your family member worth? It’s an issue worth considering, and not just in a week when three area farmers died.