Family farms in Wisconsin, as with other Midwestern states, are often lauded as being “America’s heartland.” They are often depicted in the dewy light of early morning with farmers heading off to the barn or fields to get the day’s work done. According to a recent investigation from the Star Tribune, too many farmers will fail to return home at night, after dying in a farm accident.
The report indicates that crop production is the most dangerous line of work, with a fatality rate 50 percent greater than mining and more than twice as high as construction work. In part, it can be attributed to farmers often working alone. When a farmer gets into trouble, there is no coworker to help them out.
However, much of it can be attributed to a lack of regulation and government oversight. While many complain of the red tape caused by safety regulations, those regulations save lives. In most other industries, injury and fatality rates have been falling due to the concerted effect of decades of state and federal workplace safety regulation.
However, farm safety programs have seen cuts in funding, and many accidents are never fully investigated or subject to inspection as would occur with most other workplace accidents.
Some argue that training does no good, that farmers are stubborn and won’t change behavior. Nevertheless, Wisconsin has a safety training program for children younger than age 16, and the state has seen a drop of 16 percent in farm deaths.
Grain bins present a terrific threat, and after deaths increased to record levels in 2010, federal regulators began aggressive enforcement and issued increased fines. This caused the death toll to fall, but Congress intervened and forced the agency to reduce oversight. Unsurprising, last year there were 38 deaths due to grain entrapments, up from 21 in 2012.
Regulations force employers and workers to develop the safe habits that can save their lives. Safety is never an accident.
Because at the end of the day, it is better to be tangled in red tape than to have the arm or your coat tangled in a tractor’s power take-off.
Source: startribune.com, “Tragic Harvest: Deadliest Workplace: The Farm,” Jeffrey Meitrodt, photos and videos by Renée Jones Schneider, October 4, 2015