The agricultural industry has consistently ranked as one of the most dangerous industries in the United States throughout the last decade. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, each day, more than 200 agricultural workers in America suffer work related injuries that are so severe that they must miss work. An alarming five percent of those injuries result in permanent impairment, and unfortunately, many agricultural workers lose their lives to agricultural related injuries.
Between 2003 and 2011, approximately 5,800 agricultural workers in the United States lost their lives to injuries that were work related. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, an estimated 568 agricultural industry deaths occurred in 2014 alone, accounting for a full 12 percent of all work related fatalities across the nation that year. These disturbing statistics are not all-inclusive, however, because many farm related deaths are not reported. Additionally, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is only required to monitor workplace safety on farms that have more than 10 employees, so a comprehensive farm-fatality database is unavailable.
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Injuries and Fatalities in the Agricultural Industry in Illinois
Unfortunately, the alarming number of serious farm-related injuries and fatalities plagues the state of Illinois as well. The University of Illinois Cooperative Extension Office notes that more than 200 agricultural workers suffer from work related injuries so severe that they result in physical disabilities each year. The death toll for farm workers is also highly disturbing in Illinois. From 1986 to 2012, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Extension office reported that at least 800 agricultural related fatalities occurred in the state. Approximately 163 fatal occupational injuries were reported in the state in 2014, and between July 2013 and June 2014, there were 21 farm-related deaths.
What are the Causes of Farm Related Injuries and Fatalities?
Injuries in the agricultural industry can range from minor cuts and bruises to severe, disabling injuries and fatalities. The most common causes of agricultural related injuries and deaths in Illinois include:
- Tractors: According to the National Coalition for Agricultural Safety and Health, tractor accidents are the leading cause of injuries that result in disability or death in the agricultural industry in the United States. Across the nation, tractor accidents account for approximately one-half to one-third of farm related fatalities, and 5 to 10 percent of nonfatal injuries. According to an analysis by COUNTRY financial, a whopping 36 percent of all farm related deaths that occurred in Illinois between 2005 and 2015 were caused by tractor or other farm machinery rollovers, and tractor accidents caused 9 fatalities in Illinois in the past year alone.
Many tractor accidents could be prevented if more tractors were equipped with rollover protection structures and seat belts, but unfortunately, many are not. An estimated 41 percent of tractors in the U.S. are not equipped with rollover protection, however, and even when tractors are equipped with seat belts, they frequently go unused.
- Other Machinery: Many serious or fatal accidents occur in the ag industry due to the victim becoming entangled in belts, chains, gears and other moving mechanisms. While most farm machinery is equipped with safety devices, protective guards and warning stickers, these items often become dysfunctional due to wear, tear, and improper maintenance, and sometimes they are overridden by owners and operators.
- Roadway: In many cases, younger, less experienced drivers are allowed to operate vehicles while working on farms. Lack of maturity and experience leads to an increased number of roadway accidents in the industry.
- Other Causes: Other causes of serious injuries and fatalities in the agricultural industry include things like grain bin accidents, exposure to adverse weather conditions, livestock handling accidents and the inhalation or exposure to harmful dust or toxic chemicals.
Illinois Agricultural Industry Injuries and Workers Compensation
Workers compensation law as it applies to injured workers in the agricultural industry is complicated territory. While a workers comp attorney who is familiar with specific laws in the state can provide detailed information about your unique situation, a few highlights of the law may help you better understand what to expect.
- In the state of Illinois, agricultural employers are only required to provide workers compensation coverage if they employed 400 or more working days of agricultural labor per quarter during the preceding calendar year.
- Labor hours that are performed by an employer’s immediate family members who reside with him or her are excluded.
- Farmers who are not required to provide coverage have the option to do so at their own discretion.They may also opt to purchase insurance that offers coverage for farm employees.
- With liability to farm employees coverage, the injured worker must prove that the injury is a result of the farmer’s negligence. Since workers comp in Illinois is “no fault” no proof is necessary when farmers have workers comp insurance.