According to the Indiana Department of Labor, the injury and illness rate of the state’s agricultural workers increased almost 30 percent between 2014 and 2015. But the numbers—from the state’s annual Survey of Occupational Illnesses and Injuries—don’t tell the whole story.
The agricultural industry—which includes workers not only in farming but in fishing, hunting and forestry as well—had the highest workplace injury rate in the state in 2015—7.1 injuries per every 100 workers. State labor department officials say the rate is notorious for fluctuating dramatically from year to year, but has nearly doubled since 2013.
The state estimates 800 people in ag sustained injuries on the job in 2015—but Purdue University agricultural safety specialist Bill Field says that number is certainly higher. Reporting laws only cover large farms with more than 10 employees—and Field says the majority of Indiana’s farms never document injuries.
“The number of these farms that have to be compliant is very very small,” says Field. “it’s probably less than 2 percent of the total number of farms that are out there.”
The Department of Labor itself takes this into account, conceding in the report “the estimates, therefore, are based on the cases occurring at larger farms.”
Field says the total number of Indiana’s ag injuries—when one takes smaller operations into account—is closer to 6000. That’s more than seven times what’s reported to the state.
Field says the report’s increased injury rate is probably the result of increased reporting rather than riskier factors—especially when it comes to the larger factory farms surveyed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
The state reports most ag-related injuries occurred in people working in animal processing or aquaculture.
“While the use of large machines in sewing and harvesting crops may be perceived as responsible for these injuries, the sub-industry of animal production and aquaculture actually had the highest injury and illness rate in agriculture, with 9.6 injuries or illnesses per 100 full-time workers,” the report reads.
Field says that makes sense—especially when considering the scale of most animal production operations.
“You’ve got machinery, you’ve got livestock, you’ve got longer hours,” he says. “You’ve got all the things that contribute to an increased risk of injury.”