When most of us think of farms, we imagine a picturesque landscape with a red barn and silo, some friendly cows in the pasture, and a quaint little farmhouse. Though farms can undoubtedly be beautiful places, the reality is that many farms aren’t quite as carefree as we might believe as we drive past. Farming is complex and presents incredible challenges for workers. These challenges can threaten their lives in both the short and long term. Between workplace machinery accidents, chemicals and pesticides, hot working conditions, and animal unpredictability, the reality is that farming is an incredibly dangerous job. For many, it is about more than providing food to communities and the risk that many face is not what most of us would expect.
Farming Is One of the Deadliest Industries
It’s interesting how infrequently most of us consider the dangers of farming when in reality, the job is one of the deadliest in the United States. Farming is two times as deadly as serving on law enforcement and five times more deadly than serving as a firefighter. In fact, farming is rated the sixth most dangerous job, beating out powerline workers and steelworkers. Though the job is essential to keep society running and fed, it poses a significant threat to those who take it on as a vocation.
What Makes Farming Dangerous?
A lot of these statistics may seem confusing if farming is relatively foreign to you. The idea that many of us have of a farmer’s workday is wildly inaccurate and ignores the dangerous realities that farmers and farmhands face daily. These are some of the threats that make farming dangerous to workers.
Grains aren’t inherently scary for most of us. However, for farmers, the silos of grain such as wheat and soybeans present the opportunity for suffocation and asphyxiation. The dust from the grains can make it hard to breathe in the vicinity and cause workers to choke under the right conditions. More terrifying, perhaps, is the threat of falling into the grain in the silos. Though grain can be stacked very high, it’s not a stable surface for the human body. If a farmer falls into the grains with no one around, they can easily sink to the bottom and perish.
As with most farm equipment, tractors are incredibly large and bulky. They can be challenging to drive and maneuver, and many of them are used for decades, making their safety features out of date. There are significant opportunities for a tractor to roll over, which can leave the driver crushed or trapped. Even if it doesn’t roll, getting limbs stuck under the wheels or in the machinery is not uncommon, making tractors the most significant threat to farmworkers.
The bulky farm equipment isn’t just a danger in itself; it also presents a threat via electrocution. Because the equipment is tall, there is ample chance to run into telephone and electricity wires, which can easily turn lethal for the machine operator.
On commercial farms, chemicals and pesticides are frequently used. While chemicals help keep machinery and areas clean, pesticides protect crops from getting eaten by bugs or small animals. Though this certainly helps farmers preserve their investments and pass health code guidelines, it can present a threat to those who have to work with them. Prolonged pesticide exposure can lead to breathing problems, lung damage, vomiting, skin rashes, and other significant side effects. To make matters worse, these pesticides are often sprayed over large areas, and the particles easily make it into the air on the worksite.
No matter what job you’re in, you are likely to make mistakes if you regularly work 10 or 12 hours per day. For farmers, this is normal in the summer and fall months, when crops need to be planted, harvested, and distributed. Overworking can cause individual health problems and leaves room for error, which, for farmers, can be lethal.
Farmers are at high risk for cancer in many different ways. The pesticide mentioned above certainly presents a risk for cancer. Working under the hot sun also presents many opportunities for skin cancer, especially on the face, arms, and hands.
Bacteria and germs are natural in most places. However, on farms, there is an exceptionally high concentration of them. Between manure, animals, and vegetation, farmers are at a high risk of contracting bacterial and viral infections. While many of these are treatable, it’s possible that some farmers will never seek a doctor. Because farms exist in rural areas, doctors are sometimes difficult to come by. Many farmers may not even realize that they’re sick or refuse to take time off work to heal. This generally results in long-term conditions and compounded illness.
There is a high concentration of mental illness among farmers, particularly when it comes to depression. Many of these conditions are stress-induced and can be life-threatening if left untreated. However, mental health resources are scarce in rural areas, and many farmers lack the resources to seek the help they need to overcome their mental illness.
Farming is a generational business. Generally, children who grow up on farms end up owning and operating the farm themselves when their parents retire or die. Equipment is passed down the same way, and most farmers continue to use the same equipment until it simply cannot be used anymore. This results in farms using equipment that is upwards of 50 years old. These machines lack the modern safety measures that can help keep farmers safe. There’s also a higher chance of malfunction on an old machine and a lack of manufacturer accountability if something goes wrong.
Though many of us think cows and horses and pigs are cute, they can pose a threat to those who work in close contact with them. Animals act instinctively to their surroundings and can easily spook and kick or bite whoever is near. Even the best farmers have to be extremely careful around animals, and many will suffer injuries despite their care.
It’s easy to jump to the question, “How do we make farming safer?” Though the question seems obvious, the answer certainly isn’t. Many farmers do the best that they can to keep their farms safe, but sometimes there is only so much that can be done when working with heavy machinery and natural landscape. The federal government has made significant attempts to place regulations on farms to make them safer, but many farmers resist these changes. Farms operate relatively independently, so outside control makes many of these rural citizens very uncomfortable and even angry. What’s more, farming is so varied between locations, crops, and farm setups that enacting uniform rules to cover all farms is not practical.
Rural Medical Access
One major hurdle for farmers is the lack of medical access in rural areas. While this certainly presents inaccessibility to preventive care such as physicals and mental health services, it can also be a disadvantage in an emergency situation. If something happens and medical attention is needed, it can take hours for an ambulance to reach the farm. In many cases, it’s too late by the time care arrives. Many deaths would be preventable with proper medical access. However, because rural populations are sparse and there are many unincorporated towns, there simply isn’t local funding to erect proper hospitals or care clinics. There really isn’t a straightforward solution to the problem of rural medical access, but the lack of health infrastructure to support farmers is killing them.
Despite the dangers of farming and the unregulated nature of the business, farmworkers still have rights. There are several situations in which a farm worker would be entitled to compensation for a workplace injury. Below are some general examples.
- If a worker suffers an injury due to a coworker’s negligence. This can include failure to receive proper training to operate machinery, working under the influence, not following safety protocol, etc.
- If a worker is asked to engage in dangerous behavior by a superior. If a supervisor or official authority figure asks a farmworker to operate machinery that they aren’t licensed for, break safety protocol, etc.
- If machinery isn’t up to code and causes injury.
There are many applications of these situations in the farm world, but it’s important to note that farmworkers have the same rights as employees in other industries.
Contact English, Lloyd, and Armenta
If you or a loved one has been injured while working on a farm, it’s important to seek legal counsel. The proper attorney will be able to get you just compensation for your injuries and ensure that the financial burden is not on your shoulders for your expensive medical care. Our team at English, Lloyd, and Armenta has extensive experience seeking justice for farmworkers in the Coachella Valley area. We can ensure that you receive proper care and support so that you can continue to support your family for years to come. Contact us today to get started.