The United States relies on agriculture for many of our every day needs. Our food is produced from the grain, vegetables, fruits and animals that are produced on farms and fish that come from fisheries. Our clothing is produced from the cotton and wool that come from the plants and animals on farms. Our homes are built from the timber from the forestry industry.

However, agriculture can be dangerous work for the approximately 3 million Americans who work in the industry. Since farming is so vital to the everyday life of Americans, it is important that steps are taken to protect farmers and to safeguard the industry. The advancement of technology has led to fewer fatalities and injuries among agricultural workers in recent years; however the rate of fatalities and injuries still exceeds the national average for workers in the private sector.

Agricultural Fatalities

Fatalities occur across the 50 states, across every type of farm and for many different reasons. However, the data collected by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health shows some clear trends. First, farm tractors was by far the most common cause of agricultural fatalities from 1992-2001.

Figure 3-6. Leading sources of fatal occupational injuries in the agriculture, forestry, and fishing industry, 1992-2001. (Fatality data exclude New York City.) Farm tractors accounted for 2,165 fatal occupational injuries during 1992-2001 and were the leading source of these deaths in agriculture, forestry, and fishing. Trucks and fishing boats were also major sources of death in this industry and accounted for 795 and 434 fatal occupational injuries, respectively.
(Sources: BLS

[2002a]; Myers [2003].)

In the five year period from 1992-1997 machinery was the leading cause of fatal injuries in the agricultural industry followed by motor vehicles.

Figure 3-7. Leading causes of fatal occupational injuries in the agriculture, forestry, and fishing industry, 1992-1997. During 1992-1997, machinery caused 1,021 fatal occupational injuries and was the leading cause of these deaths in agriculture, forestry, and fishing as reported on death certificates. The next leading causes of these deaths were motor vehicles (624 fatalities) and falls (235 fatalities).
(Sources: NIOSH [2001a]; Myers [2001a].)

While no state is immune to the possibility of occupational fatalities in the agricultural industry, some states had higher number of fatalities than others from 1992-2000. The states with the highest number of fatalities during that period were California, Texas and Florida.

Figure 3-8. Fatal occupational injuries in the agriculture, forestry, and fishing industry by State, 1992-2000. (Fatality data exclude New York City.) During 1992-2000, the highest numbers of fatal occupational injuries in agriculture, forestry, and fishing were reported by California (646), Texas (384), Florida (313), Kentucky (298), Pennsylvania (289), and Tennessee (271).
(Sources: BLS [2001a]; Myers [2001b].)

It is important to note that while California, Texas and Florida may have the highest numbers of fatalities in the agricultural industry, they do not have the highest rates of fatalities in the industry. In fact, California ranks among the lowest states in rates of fatal agricultural injuries.

Figure 3-9. Fatal occupational injury rates in the agriculture, forestry, and fishing industry by State, 1992-2000. (Fatality data exclude New York City.) During 1992-2000, the highest fatal occupational injury rates in agriculture, forestry, and fishing were reported by Alaska (175.9 per 10,000 workers), Kentucky (62.3), and Tennessee (44.3).
(Sources: BLS [2001a,b]; Myers [2001b].)

Unfortunately, many of the deaths that occur in the agricultural industry are among young workers under the age of 20. Among this age group there were more than , fatalities between 1982 and 1996. The majority of these deaths were due to machinery accidents and drowning. The government has recognized the problem of children getting hurt in agricultural accidents and that the problem includes children who work on farms. Accordingly, in the 1990s a National Action Plan was developed to address the problem.

Figure 3-11. Unintentional on-farm deaths of youths under age 20 by cause of death, 1982-1996. During 1982-1996, unintentional on-farm deaths of youths under age 20 most frequently involved machinery (773 fatalities), drowning (585 fatalities), or firearms (237 fatalities).
(Sources: NCHS [2002]; Adekoya and Pratt [2001].)

Like other types of occupational fatalities in the agricultural industry, accidents that result in the death of workers under age 20 can occur in any state in the nation. However, Texas had a significantly higher number of fatalities than other states in the 1982-1996 time period.

Figure 3-12. Unintentional on-farm deaths of youths under age 20 by State, 1982-1996. During 1982-1996, the highest numbers of unintentional on-farm deaths of youths under age 20 were reported by Texas (204), Pennsylvania (109), Iowa (107), Missouri (106), and Wisconsin (105).
(Sources: NCHS [2002]; Adekoya and Pratt [2001].)

Agricultural Injuries

The number of nonfatal agricultural injuries is higher than the number of fatalities. However, some of the same states that see high numbers of fatalities also see high numbers of nonfatal injuries. From 1993-1995, California, Minnesota and Iowa saw the highest number of nonfatal injuries.

Figure 3-15. Number of nonfatal occupational farming injuries by State, 1993-1995. During 1993-1995, the highest numbers of nonfatal occupational farming injuries occurred in California (12,695), Minnesota (11,847), Iowa (11,137), and Wisconsin (10,173). (Note: For reporting purposes, the following States were combined: Alaska and Washington; Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island; Delaware and Maryland; Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont; Montana and Wyoming; and Nevada and Utah.)
(Sources: NIOSH [2001b]; Myers [2001c].)

The rate of injury among every 100 workers was highest in Alaska, Washington, Arizona and Ohio. Each of those states saw more than 11 of every 100 workers hurt in an agricultural accident.

Figure 3-16. Rates of nonfatal occupational farming injuries by State, 1993-1995. Mississippi had the highest rate of nonfatal occupational farming injury (14.5 per 100 full-time workers), followed by Alaska and Washington (combined injury rate of 14.3), Arizona (13.7), Ohio (13.1), and Colorado (11.3). (Note: For reporting purposes, the following States were combined: Alaska and Washington; Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island; Delaware and Maryland; Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont; Montana and Wyoming; and Nevada and Utah.)
(Sources: BLS [2002b]; NIOSH [2001b]; Myers [2001c].)

The greatest number of nonfatal agricultural injuries occurred on cattle, hog and sheep farms in the 1993-1995 period. However, several other types of farms saw tens of thousands of injuries as well.

Figure 3-17. Number of nonfatal occupational farming injuries by type of farm operation, 1993-1995. During 1993-1995, most nonfatal occupational injuries occurred on cattle, hog, or sheep operations, followed by cash grain and dairy operations.
(Sources: NIOSH [2001b]; Myers [2001c].)

The rate of injury per every 100 Worker’s Compensation was similar among crop farms, livestock farms and a category that includes all farms.

Figure 3-18. Rates of nonfatal occupational farming injuries by type of farm operation, 1993-1995. Nonfatal occupational injury rates were similar for crop and livestock farms during 1993-1995, but rates were slightly higher for crop farms.
(Sources: NIOSH [2001b]; Myers [2001c].)

The majority of injuries were caused by machinery and livestock.

Figure 3-19. Number of nonfatal occupational farming injuries by leading sources of injury, 1993-1995. Nonfatal occupational farming injuries were primarily caused by machinery and livestock during 1993-1995. Other major sources of injury included working surfaces and hand tools.
(Sources: NIOSH [2001b]; Myers [2001c].)

Specific Dangers For Certain Farms

The cause of the accidents and fatalities is different for different types of farms. For example, the dangers from handling livestock are greatest on cattle, hog and pig farms while the danger from pesticides is greatest on crop farms.

Things such as tools, falls, machinery, motor vehicles and weather can be a factor on many different types of farms. Therefore, it is important for every farmer to understand how to protect his employees and to minimize the risks so that agricultural injuries and fatalities can be avoided to the greatest extent possible.

What Are Pesticides?

For many years, the United States agricultural industry has been using pesticides to protect crops and control insects. Pesticides provide many benefits. However, they also present dangers to people who work with them. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that there are between 10,000 -20,000 occupational pesticide poisonings annually.

A pesticide is a substance that is used to prevent or destroy pests such as insects, rodents or fungi. Some pesticides are made of chemicals and others are made of biologically based ingredients. The EPA has found that biologically based pesticides are often safer than chemical pesticides.

Which Pesticides Cause Injuries?

In 1998 – 1999 there were 1,009 reported cases of occupational illnesses related to pesticides. Of those, just under one half were related to insecticides.

Figure 2-159. Distribution and number of pesticide-related illnesses by pesticide functional class, 1998-1999. Insecticides were responsible for 49% (494 cases) of the 1,009 reported occupational illnesses related to pesticides.
(Sources: NIOSH [2002d]; Calvert [2002].)

Accordingly, it makes sense that the greatest number of pesticide-related illnesses were seen in the agriculture industry.

Figure 2-158. Distribution and number of pesticide-related illnesses by industry, 1998-1999. Employer or industry data were available for 911 of the 1,009 pesticide-related illness cases during 1998-99. Most of these cases (51.5% or 469 cases) were from the agricultural sector. Services accounted for 19.4% (177 cases) and transportation, communication, and public utilities accounted for 9.3% (85) cases.
(Sources: NIOSH [2002d]; Calvert [2002].)

When you look at specific occupations, it is easy to tell that farm workers have the highest number of pesticide related illnesses. In fact, more than two thirds of those who become sick from pesticides in 1998-1999 were farm workers.

Figure 2-157. Distribution and number of pesticide-related illnesses among agricultural workers by occupation, 1998-1999. Farm workers reported by far the most pesticide-related illnesses (71.8% or 336 cases) during 1998-1999. Other occupations with notable pesticide-related illnesses included graders and sorters (7.5% or 35 cases) and nursery workers (4.7% or 22 cases).
(Sources: NIOSH [2002d]; Calvert [2002].)

Since insecticides are so dangerous, it is important for the agricultural community to be able to know which insecticides are the most dangerous. The data collected during 1998-1999 found 6 pesticides to be responsible for over 90% of all pesticide related illnesses with organophosphorus being responsible for just over 47% of the illnesses alone.

Figure 2-160. Distribution and number of pesticide-related illnesses by insecticide chemical class, 1998-1999. The following insecticide classes were most commonly responsible for pesticide-related illnesses during 1998-1999: organophosphorus (47.2% or 233 cases), N-methyl carbamate (15.4% or 76 cases), pyrethroid (11.1% or 55 cases), and pyrethrin (9.3% or 46 cases).
(Sources: NIOSH [2002d]; Calvert [2002].)

What Injuries Can Pesticides Cause?

Pesticides can cause different injuries depending on the chemicals used in the pesticide, the concentration of those chemicals and how much was ingested by the worker. Some possible pesticide injuries include poisoning, skin problems, respiratory problems and other diseases.

How Can You Protect Yourself From Pesticides Used On The Job?

Employees whose working conditions often include the use of pesticides should be taught how to handle pesticides safely. They should also be given personal protective equipment that fits well and is properly cleaned. Decontamination facilities should be available for workers and workers should be taught the warning signs of pesticide related illnesses.

Until safe pesticides are developed and made affordable for occupational use, workers will continue to be exposed to potentially harmful chemicals. It is, therefore, important, that they take all necessary steps to minimize their chances of getting sick.