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Data fall short in capturing farm-related deaths

Data fall short in capturing farm-related deaths

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A more comprehensive surveillance and tracking system is needed to better illuminate agriculture-related fatalities in the United States, according to a new study by the Marshfield Clinic Research Institute and collaborators.

Current surveillance methods miss entire categories of fatalities that occur during agricultural work or on production-agriculture worksites. Moreover many people working in production agriculture are primarily employed in other industries with agricultural work serving as a part-time or secondary form of employment. As a result many fatalities occurring on farms and ranches are excluded from national datasets.

Despite under-counting the 2019 Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries still indicated workers in agriculture, forestry and fishing sectors were seven times more likely to die on the job than workers in other industries. Fatalities in agriculture accounted for 81 percent of all occupational fatalities among youth workers ages 15 to 17.

“What about the Rest of Them? Fatal Injuries Related to Production Agriculture Not Captured by the Bureau of Labor Statistics Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries” recently was published in the “Journal of Agromedicine.”

“Fatal injuries in agriculture and other occupations are reported fairly well by the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries,” said Risto Rautiainen, a professor in the department of environmental, agricultural and occupational health at the University of Nebraska-Medical Center and director of the Central States Center for Agricultural Safety and Health. He is a co-author of the report. At the same time the census incomplete for agriculture, he said.

“Self-employed farmers and ranchers aren't covered nor are workers on farms with fewer than 10 employees," he said.

The authors include examples of reports from AgInjuryNews.org to show agriculture-related fatalities not captured by the census, such as victims of vehicle crashes on public roadways involving farm equipment, children killed in farm settings or on farm equipment, and tractor operators killed on public roads because it wasn’t known if they were working at the time of the crash. AgInjuryNews.org is an online database of agricultural-injury reports primarily compiled from online news media and obituaries.

“We want to make sure we’re capturing relevant injury data so we can propose the best possible safety interventions to prevent injuries and protect the people who produce our foods, fuel and fiber,” said Bryan Weichelt, an associate research scientist with the National Farm Medicine Center at the Marshfield Clinic Research Institute. He co-authored the study and serves as project leader for AgInjuryNews.org.

The authors recommend that the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health lead and fund a collaborative effort with its 10 regional agricultural health and safety centers and the National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety. They suggest developing common surveillance systems to collect agricultural fatality, injury and illness data. They also recommend including a focus on areas currently excluded from the census, and non-fatal injuries and illnesses to self-employed farmers and ranchers and their family members. Those individuals are currently excluded from Bureau of Labor Statistics Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses.

The authors’ recommendations align with an urgent need to improve the quality of mortality data and routine injury surveillance, the theme in a new supplement from the American Journal of Public Health, “When Dying Really Counts.” Editors of the supplement stress that the consequences of inaccuracies in mortality data threaten the mission of public health. Visit tandfonline.com and search for "What about the rest of them?" for more information.

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