Driving west on Highway 36 as the sun went down in north central Kansas, where I spent my Halloween, I heard a local advertisement on the radio with a message that is all too familiar: more farm accidents occur during harvest than any other time of year. This tragically hit home the week before, when a 5-year-old girl was killed while riding in the combine with her father in Dickinson County, Kansas, about an hour and a half from where I was at the time. Several days later, another farm accident took the life of an 82-year-old man in Marion County, just north of Wichita.
I shudder to think it could happen to one of my own relatives, and although there have been some close calls, I am thanksful no one I know has been killed in a farm-related accident. When tragedies like the two in the last couple weeks occur, it hits home, and shows accidents can happen.
Safety measures and technology are always improving, but many know farming is one of the most dangerous (although rewarding) occupations, and during harvest time, it's easy to see why. Harvesting, transporting machinery and grain, and handling grain all come with a certain amount of risk.
Farm accident statistics
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 2012, 475 work-related fatalities in agriculture, forestry, hunting and fishing, although this decreased 16% from 566 in 2011. Fatal injuries in crop production, animal production, forestry and logging, and fishing sectors all decreased in 2012, but agriculture recorded the highest fatal injury rate of any industry sector at 21.2 fatal injuries per 100,000 workers.
The difference between agriculture and other industries is family is often involved, and the risk also affects them, especially young children. I wouldn't go as far as to say youth shouldn't be allowed to ride along or operate machinery, but there are definitely some precautions to take.
A big topic I remember from visiting Amana Farms, which has Certified Safe Farm status through the University of Iowa Center for Agricultural Safety and Health, is changing attitudes toward farm safety. During harvest, when many farmers are pressed to finish, it can be easy to overlook safety. However, as the CSF website notes, farm injuries result in more downtime, less productivity, and more stress.