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NASS releases study of farm youth injuries

As the Labor Department and members of Congress battle over whether the federal government rule on child labor on farms should be rewritten, they may want to take into consideration the following findings from a survey released today by the Agriculture Department’s National Agricultural Statistics Service:
  • Youth injuries on farms went down between 2001 and 2009, but not as fast as the decline in the number of youths working on farms.
  • Children who live on the farm are more likely to be injured than youth who come to work on the farm.

“Even though the numbers seem to be going down there are still some serious work-related injuries out there,” John Myers, the health statistician at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) said in a telephone interview.

NIOSH defines an injury as any condition occurring on the farm operation resulting in at least four hours of restricted activity or requiring professional medical attention. To get its data, NIOSH conducted a telephone survey of 50,000 farm households, finding that between 32 and 35 percent of farm households have youth (people under 20) working on the farm. The survey did not include information on fatalities or contract labor.

The survey showed that:
  • The number of youth working on farms had fallen from 1.15 million in 2001 to 748,938 in 2009.
  • The number of people injured fell from 8,588 in 2001 to 3,191 in 2009.
  • The work injuries per 1,000 working youth fell from 7.5 to 4.3.
  • But the working injuries per 1,000 among youth who were members of the household working on the farm in 2009 was 5, compared to 4.3 overall.
  • More than 70 percent of the work-related injuries in 2009 were males. Approximately 42 percent of work-related injuries were to youth 10 to 15 years of age and 42 percent were to youth 16 to 19 years of age.

The survey also examined all injuries on the farm, whether they were work-related or not, and found that only a quarter of the injuries on the farm were due to work.

Myers said that the biggest cause of injuries were falls either from elevation or from the same level. Accidents involving hand tools were an important element in work injuries, but tractors were rarely involved in injuries because accidents with them usually resulted in death. Most non-work injuries for girls involved horses while accidents for adolescent males involved all-terrain vehicles (ATVs).
Barbara Lee

Barbara Lee
Barbara Lee, director of the National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety in Marshfield, Wis., said the accident rate showed that caution is still needed on the farm. The center has published a series of guides for parents that say children’s performance of tasks on farms should depend on developmental level, not just age.

“Beneath the overall declining injury rates, however, challenges remain, such as higher relative injury rates for all-terrain-vehicles and horses,” Lee said in a news release. “An in-depth analysis of 2006 data revealed a mixture of work and non-work exposures, including ATVs and horses, that likely contribute to the higher injury rates seen in farm household children ages 10-15 relative to other age groups.”

“We are fortunate to have new data on childhood agricultural injuries,” said Lee. “This information helps us maintain our momentum and target future interventions on selected areas where injuries persist.”

Scott Heiberger of the National Farm Medicine Center in Marshfield said the survey data is particularly important because emergency rooms are not required to keep statistics on farm accidents.

Farm youth are exempt from most of the federal child labor rules, but the Labor Department is in the process of rewriting the rules that do exist.

Farm leaders have said the proposed rules would make it difficult for farm parents to pass along their knowledge and values to their children, and coalitions of members of Congress have proposed stopping the Labor Department from moving forward with the rule.

Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, has said, however, that experts have learned a lot about farm youth labor since the rule was last rewritten 40 years ago, and has said the rewrite should move forward.