WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — It’s been almost 30 years since Indiana experienced so many farm-related deaths.
The 44 fatalities documented by Purdue University in 2016 is also the third-highest number in the past 47 years and represents an increase for the third consecutive year in the Hoosier State.
Bill Field, a farm safety expert at the West Lafayette campus, hopes the bothersome trend is just a natural fluctuation of numbers. “We’ve seen these bumps before,” he explained.
He did say one possible explanation is that the average age of a farmer nationwide keeps going up, with Indiana now approaching 58. Loss of vision, hearing, mobility and reaction time are just some of the effects of aging that create a higher risk, especially if an aging farmer tries doing too much.
Twenty-five of the fatalities from 2016 were individuals over age 50, including four in their eighties and one in their nineties. The 93-year-old, from DeKalb County, was welding when somehow he caught his pants on fire, according to the Purdue statistical report.
“We’re seeing more and more incidents involving older farmers who are often retired and working just part-time on their operation,” Field said.
Another possible reason for the increase is more people getting into farming as a small business or hobby and lacking experience to safely operate the older machinery they usually purchase, said Field.
Just four of the deaths in 2016 were children, with the youngest being age 4.
Thirty-six percent of the 2016 fatalities involved tractors, with several victims either falling off or being thrown off. A 65-year-old farmer in Ripley County after being thrown off his tractor, for example, was struck by a motor vehicle, according to the report.
Other machinery-related deaths listed in the report include a 60-year-old man entangled in a PTO shaft in St. Joseph County and an 18-year-old man in Blackford County getting caught in a stump grinder.
Five of the deaths resulted from falling trees, while another person was crushed by a log. Other victims included a 59-year-old man in Allen County kicked by a horse and 68-year-old man pushed by a cow into a concrete structure in Franklin County, according to the report.
There were 18 farm-related Indiana deaths in 2013, but 25 and 28 occurred in each of the next two years, respectively. The lowest number of fatalities documented by Purdue was 8 in 2006, with the highest being 54 in 1981.
The last time the number of deaths exceeded 30 was in 1995, with 42 people. There were 36 deaths the previous year, according to the report.
Field said among the things farmers can do is not to exceed their physical limitations in an age where productivity and meeting early deadlines to maximize profits seems to be more of a focus.
“The economist tells us that’s how to make money and so forth, and we just press people into boxes that are just hard to live within. They end up working longer hours. They’re tired and they’re prone to making mistakes,” cautioned Field.
The report also reflected five deaths in 2016 from collisions with Amish buggies by motor vehicles. Three of those deaths in Allen County resulted from just one crash.