A new study by Penn State researchers suggests that the agriculture industry has led to more injuries than previously thought, the university reported Thursday.
Researchers looked at emergency room admissions across the United States over a recent five-year period between January 2015 to December 2019 and found more than 60,000 people were treated in emergency departments for nonfatal, agricultural-related injuries.
The study shows that, significantly, nearly a third of those injured were youths.
“This study revealed the true magnitude of the agricultural-related injury problem,” said study author Judd Michael, professor of agricultural and biological engineering at the College of Agricultural Sciences. “We were slightly surprised at the sheer number of farm-related injuries and concerned by the high number of youths who were injured.”
The university said that before this research, knowledge of nonfatal injuries was somewhat limited since existing data are based mostly on regional or national periodic surveys. The Bureau of Labor Statistics captures only nonfatal occupational injuries through its Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses, which collects data on all industries. However, its data excludes self-employed farmers and family members, as well as workers on farms with fewer than 11 employees.
“It has been estimated that the SOII was undercounting occupational injuries and illnesses in agriculture by about 78%,” Michael said.
Using the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s National Electronic Injury Surveillance System for patients treated in emergency departments and using “farm” as a keyword, the study found that 62,079 people were treated in emergency rooms for agricultural-related injuries during the five-year period. The mean age estimate was 39 years old, with ages ranging from 1 to 95.
Almost two-thirds of the patients were male and almost 80% were white, according to the study. About 30% of the patients were youths, while another 22% were elderly.
The university said these age groups are usually not present in the typical workforce but are involved in agriculture.
According to findings recently published in the Journal of Agromedicine, most injuries occurred from April through September. The most common injury was fracture, followed by open wound or amputation. The primary source of injury was in the “vehicles” category, with tractors being the dominant vehicle type.
Michael said researchers have known youths are at greater risk than adults for injury around farms, but it had not been necessarily thought it was because of work.
“Small farms are family-oriented businesses, and often they have all their family members helping out,” he said. “And the kids who are helping out or visiting the farm are exposed to hazards that they may not understand or know how to react to. They’re not mature enough to foresee hazardous situations. And that leads to injuries or worse, in some cases, fatalities.
“Agriculture and forestry are among the most hazardous industries in the U.S., and part of our overall goal here at Penn State in the ag safety and health program, and certainly within my role as the Nationwide Insurance professor, is to conduct research that will help us understand the causes of injuries and fatalities,” he said. “Because we know that if we understand why they happen, it’s much easier to prevent them.”