The agricultural industry is extremely vital to both the American economy and the American people. Not only is the industry responsible for ensuring America’s food supply, but it provides essential resources for many other sectors. However, agricultural work is not only an inherently demanding line of work, but also dangerous in many ways. As a result, agricultural workers in the US face tremendous hazards every day, and some of these hazards can result in severe injuries and illnesses.
Agriculture industry employers have a legal obligation to keep their employees safe, but injuries can happen unexpectedly with devastating results for victims. For those reasons, it is essential for everyone working in the agriculture industry to know the risks as well as their legal options for recovery after sustaining agricultural work-related injuries. Review the following information to learn why agricultural work is so dangerous.
Transportation-related injuries are the leading cause of injury in the agriculture industry—especially tractor-related injuries. Tractors are crucial pieces of machinery for agriculture, allowing farmers and their employees to work their land in a fraction of the time required to do so by hand. However, many agricultural operations rely on older tractors and other outdated equipment that do not have the safety features of modern equipment.
Tractors not only require specialized skills and operate differently than conventional vehicles, but they must also navigate uneven, unpaved terrain. This leaves them vulnerable to tip-overs, rollovers, and other accidents that can easily cause severe injuries for the operator and even others nearby. In fact, tractor rollovers are a leading cause of tractor-related injuries and fatalities in the US.
Modern tractors have Rollover Protection Structures (ROPS), seatbelts, and other safety features designed to minimize driver safety risks. Agriculture industry employers should invest in appropriate, safe equipment and replace outdated, unsafe equipment whenever possible. Additionally, employers must ensure that all farming equipment receives proper maintenance to avoid malfunctions that may result in injury.
Sprains and Strains
Working in the agriculture industry is physically demanding, and many people working in agricultural operations must complete a great deal of manual labor. Planting, harvesting, tending crops, and operating farming equipment can cause a significant level of strain on the body. For this reason, roughly half of all reported agriculture industry injuries are classified as sprains or strains. Depending on the severity of such an injury, recovery can take anywhere from a few days to several months before the injured employee can return to work.
It is also important to note that many of these strain and sprain injuries occur in younger agricultural workers. In addition, it is not uncommon for minors to work on their family farms and assist with much of the manual labor that agricultural work requires. Unfortunately, younger, smaller people are more vulnerable to strains and sprains.
There has been a tremendous level of debate concerning pesticides, herbicides, and other chemicals used in the agriculture industry. The use of some of these substances is essential to prevent disease from spreading, protect crops from devastation by invasive insects, and ensure appropriate crop growth and yields. Unfortunately, many of the chemical substances used in the agriculture industry are also highly hazardous to human health.
Anyone working in agriculture who must use chemical products should do so with extreme caution. It is vital to use these substances appropriately and follow all applicable safety standards to ensure these products work correctly and minimize the potential for chemical-related injuries.
In addition, some chemical manufacturers release unreasonably dangerous chemical products, fail to include required safety warnings on chemical products, or fail to include adequate instructions for safe use. Under these circumstances, the manufacturer can face product liability if their product causes chemical injury or illness in agricultural workers.
Working in the agriculture industry typically involves spending a great deal of time outside in direct sunlight. Most agriculture industry workers use appropriate protective clothing and take measures to reduce their risk of heat-related injuries. However, the risk of heat exposure and other heat-related injuries remains high throughout the American agricultural industry.
Agriculture industry employers should ensure that all workers have access to clean drinking water at all times. Employers should also provide appropriate protective clothing and hats to shield workers from the sun as much as possible. Workers should take breaks often and report any potential heat-related injuries to their supervisors immediately.
Agriculture often requires the use of complex and inherently dangerous machinery. These machines can cause severe injuries to their operators or others under certain conditions, so it is vital for all users to exercise extreme caution and follow safety regulations at all times. Additionally, no agriculture employee should operate any farming machinery without proper training and experience.
Machinery injuries happen most often from misuse of the machine in question or the operator’s inexperience. Employers should ensure all farm machinery is in proper working order before each use and inspect machines regularly for mechanical problems. If a piece of farming machinery causes an injury due to a manufacturing defect, the manufacturer may be liable for the victim’s damages under product liability law.
Respiratory illness is another risk factor facing those working in the agriculture sector. Spending time on a farm or other agricultural operation often means exposure to many different types of particles in the air, including organic and inorganic dusts, allergens, pollens, mold spores, various toxins, and livestock byproducts.
Some respiratory illnesses contracted through agricultural work will heal with effective treatment. Others, however, may result in chronic medical conditions or even cause a permanent disability. Any agriculture industry employer who experiences respiratory difficulty at work should notify their employer and seek medical treatment immediately.
Minimizing Agricultural Industry Hazards
It is vital for every employer in the agriculture sector to understand the risks they and their employees face every day and do whatever they can to address these issues to prevent injuries. While it is unreasonable to expect any employer to anticipate every possible incident that might occur in the scope of their operation, it is reasonable to expect agriculture employers to take reasonable precautions against preventable and foreseeable safety risks. For example, if an employee notices a dangerous condition in the workplace, they should report it to their supervisor or employer immediately. The employer has a duty to address the issue as quickly and effectively as possible before it causes an injury.
Agriculture industry employers must also follow all applicable regulations set forth by the United States Department of Agriculture, United States Department of Health and Human Services, and other relevant agencies. These agencies uphold various statutes, regulations, and guidelines to ensure quality and safety through all levels of the food supply chain in the United States. Any willful violations of these regulations, especially those that result in injuries, could leave employers liable for their employees’ damages and result in fines from various federal agencies.
What to Do After an Agriculture Industry Injury
If you work in agriculture and suffer an injury on the jobsite, you may have several options for recovery. Your first step should be filing a claim via the workers’ compensation system. California state law requires all employers to carry workers’ compensation insurance. If your employer does not have workers compensation insurance, you have the right to pursue legal action against them if you suffer an injury at work. Otherwise, your employer must provide you with all materials necessary to file a workers’ compensation claim.
Workers’ compensation can cover your medical expenses after a workplace injury and provide weekly benefits until you recover completely. California allows workers’ compensation benefits payments to continue for up to 104 weeks, which may spread over a period of five years, if necessary. If your injury results in permanent damage that leaves you unable to work, you may be able to claim permanent workers’ compensation benefits for the rest of your life.
If your workers’ compensation claim does not yield full compensation for your losses, it is best to speak with an attorney as soon as possible about your potential options for additional recovery. For example, if a product manufacturer or other third party bears any liability for your damages, you may be able to pursue a civil claim against the liable party to recover additional compensation.
Find Your Attorney Today
It is vital for everyone working in the agriculture industry to recognize the inherent dangers of this type of work. If you suffer an injury while working a job in the agriculture industry, you may incur substantial medical bills and further economic strain from lost income. Workers’ compensation may not be enough to fully cover your losses, and even if it is, there is no guarantee that your claim process will be simple or easy.
The attorneys at English, Lloyd & Armenta have years of experience representing clients in all California sectors of industry, including agriculture. We understand the unique risks people face while working in agriculture and the serious injuries they can suffer unexpectedly. Our firm has extensive experience helping clients navigate the California workers’ compensation system and exploring additional avenues of recovery after workplace accidents. If you recently suffered any kind of agriculture injury, contact us today and find out how we can assist in your recovery.