Putting a price tag on farm safety


LONDON, Ohio – A few extra minutes or a few extra dollars on a farm can be priceless and farmers are often reluctant to part with either. But when it comes to safety, spending spare moments and spare change are well worth the sacrifice.
People tend to think of farm safety as something that’s going to cost time and money, said Dee Jepsen of Ohio State University Ag Safety and Health. But what they don’t think about is the cost of an accident.
Consider the price of a rollover protective structure, or ROPS, on a tractor, she said. It can be anywhere from $800 to $1,200 installed. That’s a hefty expense until you compare it to the $6,500 price tag on the average U.S. funeral.
And, unfortunately, that’s not an extreme comparison.
From 1995 to 2004, tractor accidents caused 134 fatalities in Ohio. Fifty-nine percent of those accidents were rollovers.
Not just tractors. However, tractors aren’t to blame for all farm fatalities in Ohio. Machinery caused 20 deaths from 1995 to 2004, trucks and motor vehicles were involved in 12 deaths and grain bins and wagons caused 11 deaths.
Equipment isn’t the only thing to blame, either. Livestock contributed to the deaths of 11 Ohioans.
Safety is cheap compared to health care costs, Jepsen said during a presentation at the 2006 Farm Science Review.
Accidents generally involve medical bills, insurance costs and equipment or property loss. But most people don’t consider the cost of lost earnings, caregivers, rehabilitation or the emotional toll.
Hobby farmers. One of the factors that contributes to the number of farm-related injuries and deaths is the growing number of adults who take up farming as a hobby. With little or no experience, these hobbyists are at a greater risk when they climb on a tractor, start up a bulldozer or use any other kind of farm equipment.
“We’re selling a whole generation of people something they know nothing about,” Jepsen said.
In overall farm fatalities, the 51-60 age group had the most from 1995 to 2004 with 47.
Children are another group to be considered when thinking of farm safety. It’s not unusual for young farmers to find themselves perched atop the oldest equipment, Jepsen said. Although adults often consider what an inexperienced youth might do to the tractor, they don’t think about what the tractor might do to the youth.
Overall, 18 Ohio children under 10 lost their lives in farm accidents from 1994 to 2005. Sixteen children age 11-20 died during those same years.
Agriculture is ranked as one of the most dangerous job fields, according to Jepsen, but many times, safety isn’t seen as a business issue.
Injuries. In the U.S., about 500,000 people are injured each year in farm accidents. Of those injuries, 220,000 are disabling.
“That’s pretty devastating,” Jepsen said. “They can’t go back to their lifestyle.”
The good news is that statistics are showing some promise. While Ohio’s farm fatalities were on the rise from 1998 to 2001, they’ve taken a downward turn, falling from 34 in 2001 to 19 in 2004.
It’s also important to comply with all the safety standards – a half-hearted attempted won’t cut it.
For instance, the best rollover protective structure in the world won’t help you if you’re not wearing a seat belt. And it only takes a few seconds out of the day to take a seat belt on and off, even if you have to do it several times.
“It might cost a little more in time, a little more in money,” Jepsen said, “but the payoffs are so much better.”
(Reporter Janelle Skrinjar welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at jskrinjar@farmanddairy.com.)


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