September 8, 1999 | By: Aimee D. Heald

Youth under 25 and adults over age 55 are important parts of the future of agriculture. Unfortunately, those two groups are at the highest risk for injury on the farm. The National Safety Council has named the week of Sept. 19 to 25, National Farm and Health Safety Week with the theme, "Protecting Agriculture into the Next Century."

"The National Safety Council's 1999 edition of Injury Facts reports that agriculture is the second most hazardous industry in the nation, with a rate of over 22 deaths per 100,000 workers, compared to mining with a death rate of 23.3 per 100,000 workers," Terry Wilkinson, manager of the National Safety Council's Agricultural Division, said. "These statistics show an estimated 780 deaths and 140,000 disabling injuries in agriculture in 1998."

Youth make up about 15 percent of the farm workforce, while older workers make up about 25 percent, together that's nearly half of the agricultural workforce in the U.S.

"Young workers are less experienced," Larry Piercy, agricultural and health safety specialist for the University of Kentucky's College of Agriculture, said. "Then, as we get older, we may not be as attentive. Our reaction times may slow and our hearing and vision are not as good. Those things can affect our ability to do our job."

A study conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found that nine percent of all deaths in agriculture are young workers, under 25 and that half of all deaths in farming are workers over age 55.

John Myers, NIOSH statistician, said tractor overturns, truck related injuries, machinery entanglements and drowning are the leading causes of death for agricultural workers under 25. He said tractors, trucks, mowing machines and farm animals are involved in the leading causes of the deaths of workers over 55.

"Tractor overturns are the most common cause of death of agricultural workers under 25 and older workers," Myers said. "Most of these deaths could have been prevented if the (worker) would have been operating a tractor with an approved rollover protective structure and wearing their seatbelt."

Many initiatives already exist across the country to educate farm operators about the risks of operating certain machinery. Training for young workers, age appropriate tasks, guarding agricultural equipment, inspecting and maintaining a safe farm is also important.

"On the farm, we tend to put too much faith in well-defined safety rules," Piercy said. "We think if a piece of machinery or a chemical has rules, that alone makes it safer. Even as adults we make mistakes; children and elderly workers are at an increased risk (for injury and death)." Piercy said parents sometimes overestimate their kids abilities, perhaps forgetting they are children and sometimes their behavior is childlike. He emphasized that children need proper training and supervision on the farm. Parents need to explain the rules and why they exist.

"It's good to encourage farm families to walk around the farm," Piercy continued. "Let kids identify the hazards. That way, the parents have a better appreciation of what their kids understand."

The National Safety Council stresses that many injuries and deaths can be prevented on farms and ranches by using effective education, emphasizing hands-on training. For more information on National Farm Safety and Health week, visit the NSC website at


Writer: Aimee D. Heald 606-257-9764

Source: Larry Piercy 606-257-3000