INDIANAPOLIS — Fewer farm deaths happened in 2021, marking the fewest cases reported in the last eight years. Despite the trend, agricultural workers are urged to remain diligent.
The data comes from Purdue University’s 2021 Indiana Farm Fatality Summary with Historical Overview. This report tracks farm fatalities in Indiana dating back to 1966. While it is not comprehensive of all farm-related deaths, it does provide a historical perspective to explore trends.
Data from the report shows documented incidents of people aged 60 or older accounted for nearly half of all cases in the past five years. This includes 40% of the reports in 2021.
“Historically, farmers over the age of 60, including many who work only part-time, have accounted for a disproportionate number of farm-related injuries. Recent spikes in frequencies of fatalities over the past 10 years make this population of older farmers a special concern,” the report states.
In 2021, the report shows 20 work-related on-farm deaths in Indiana. This is a decrease from 25 cases identified in 2020. Overall, farm fatalities for the past 50 years have trended lower. The report’s authors said this likely reflects safer machinery and work practices while also corresponding with a decline in the number of farmers.
“The reduction in the number of farm operations has likely contributed more to the reduction in farm-related fatalities than any other single factor, even as Indiana farmers have become more productive than ever,” the report states. “While the total number of farm-related deaths has gradually declined the fatality rate per number of workers remains one of the highest of all Indiana occupations.”
Fatalities from 2021 range from a one-year-old boy who was hit by a pickup towing a trailer of calves to an 80-year-old man who died in an undisclosed on-farm incident.
The list does not include fatalities to farmers due to motor vehicle crashes including farm vehicles unless determined to have happened when conducting farm work tasks. Study authors said it also does not include conditions such as heart attacks or heat stress not directly attributed to work activities or medical complications from workplace health hazards such as chronic pesticide exposure.
While tractors are the most common agent in farm-related deaths, study authors said other causes included grain entrapment, equipment runovers and entanglements, and asphyxiation by fumes in confined spaces.
Despite the decline in farm fatalities, members of the Agricultural Safety and Health Program urge agricultural workers to remain diligent and follow safety protocols.
“It is encouraging that the average number of annual farm-related fatalities continues to decline. That said, in 2021, at least 20 Indiana families and communities felt the devastating impact of losing one of their own to a farmwork-related death,” said report co-author and Purdue agricultural safety specialist Ed Sheldon. “That’s a very somber reminder that we should never become complacent in our efforts to make our farms safer places to live and work.”
As farmers begin their harvest, safety specialists remind them to keep safety a top priority.