Farming is one of the most dangerous occupations. Our patchwork of prevention programs and safety efforts have not been able to help reduce the number of serious and fatal accidents.
An in-depth Free Press report in Sunday’s edition highlighted the dangers of farm work with the tragic story of 18-year-old Landon Gran, who died in a grain bin accident last summer.
His mother Michele has begun advocating for state lawmakers to institute more safety programs that would prevent the kind of tragedies that befell her family.
In fact, in Minnesota, there was an unusual increase in grain bin fatalities with eight since last June. There were another 27 fatalities across the U.S. in 2018, according to a study by Purdue University. But danger on the farm doesn’t end with grain bins. Most farm-related fatalities involve tractor rollovers.
Still, farm workers are 800 percent more likely to die in a job-related accident than any other occupation, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Minnesota established a tractor rollover prevention program a few years ago, but it has not been consistently funded. Sens. Nick Frentz, DFL-North Mankato, and Rich Draheim, R-Madison Lake, are putting together proposals to improve farm safety in 2020.
The problem with farming is that OSHA has no jurisdiction over farms with less than 10 workers, which means most farms never have a mandated safety inspection or have to report accidents. Farm groups have pushed back against things like OSHA jurisdiction on farms and others don’t want to put more regulations on farmers already stressed due to low commodity prices and other factors.
Frentz favors funding a voluntary grant program that would allow farmers to buy safety equipment like cages for augers and harnesses. Those measures could be combined with the program that was initially funding tractor rollover bars.
The voluntary funding programs for roll bars and things like auger cages should be increased at the state level. Some kind of universal training program seems in order as well, perhaps operated through the University of Minnesota extension service. There may well already be programs in place that simply need more support.
It also seems necessary to develop some kind of farm accident reporting system so we can get a handle on the scope of the problem and offer solutions.
We all know agriculture is critical to our daily lives providing food at affordable prices. Now, we must protect the people who bring us that food as they work in one of the most dangerous of workplace environments.
The Legislature should make enhancing farm safety a priority in the 2020 session.