Farming is the most dangerous occupation in this country. In the absence of federal regulatory action, legal "reforms" would effectively destroy the ability of America's self-sufficient and independent farmers to recover compensation for their injuries, to hold wrongdoers accountable for their negligence, and to deter corporations from continuing to place unsafe farm machinery on the market.
A 1987 National Safety Council (NSC) study revealed that farming is the most dangerous occupation in America. Farm deaths occur at a rate of 49 for every 100,000 workers - - almost five times the national average for all industries. The injury rate of 50 for every 1,000 workers is almost four and one-half times the rate for all industries.
There were 1,400 agricultural work deaths in 1991, according to a 1992 NSC report. The injury total for 1991 was 140,000 farmers and farm hands.
Because farming traditionally has been a family enterprise, children often help their parents. But children are not immune from the hazards found on the farm. Nearly 300 children and adolescents die each year from farm injuries, and another 23,500 suffer non-fatal trauma, according to a 1985 Consumer Product Safety Commission report.
The brutal nature of farm injuries cannot be ignored. An Iowa farmer lost both his legs when he fell into an unguarded hopper opening at the top of a forage blower. Another farmer in Alabama had his left leg mangled by a combine because the manufacturer decided to no longer include a certain protective mechanism over the rotating auger. The same fate befell a farmer in Wisconsin; it was later revealed that previous model augers were protected. These are injuries that ravage the health and future of farmers and their families.
Lack of federal action on the issue of farm safety is a major reason for the high number of farming fatalities and accidents. OSHA enforces rules on rollover bars and guards on equipment made after 1976, but these guidelines do not require the retro-fitting of unsafe older equipment manufactured prior to these years. In addition, the Department of Agriculture does not have a farm safety agency or even a specialist.
Moreover, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has no jurisdiction over farm equipment, except with regard to all-terrain vehicles (ATVs). While the Commission has stopped the sale of three-wheel ATVs, older versions of this hazardous item are still in use on farms because they were never recalled.
Not all farm accidents can be attributed to manufacturer negligence or recklessness, but it nevertheless is clear that injured agricultural workers, by holding wrongdoers accountable through our civil justice system, have spurred manufacturers to design and sell safer machinery.
American farmers have suffered their injuries in silence for too long. Legal revisions would aggravate such injustices. Aren't the lives of men, women and children who put food on our tables worth the few pennies it would cost to add protective guards?
Used with permission from The Association of Trial Lawyers of America. All rights reserved.