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Childhood Work-Related Agricultural Fatalities -- Minnesota, 1994-1997

Agriculture is one of the most hazardous industries in the United States, with the second highest work-related fatality rate during 1992-1996 (21.9 deaths per 100,000 workers) (1). During 1992-1995, 155 deaths were reported among agricultural workers aged less than or equal to 19 years; 64 (41%) of these youths were working in their family's business (2). In Minnesota during 1992-1996, agriculture had the highest fatality rate of any industry (21.3 per 100,000 workers) (1). To characterize agriculture work-related deaths among youths in Minnesota during 1994-1997, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) analyzed data from the state's Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (FACE) program. This report presents five cases of agriculture work-related fatalities among youths in Minnesota.

Since 1992, MDH has collected data about work-related fatalities through the FACE program. * Cases are identified by reviewing medical records, sheriff's reports, newspaper articles, death certificates, and Occupational Safety and Health Administration records. During 1994-1997, Minnesota FACE investigated six work-related agricultural fatalities among persons aged less than 19 years.

Case Reports

Case 1. On June 3, 1994, a 13-year-old boy died while attempting to divert a runaway farm wagon. A farmer was using a tractor to pull a forage chopper with the wagon hitched behind. When the tractor turned, the quick-release hitch connecting the wagon to the chopper unlatched. As the farmer maneuvered to reattach the chopper and wagon, the wagon rolled toward a garage. The boy ran in front of the wagon and attempted to pick up the wagon tongue to steer it. He was caught between the wagon and the garage wall and sustained severe chest injuries.

Case 2. On July 30, 1994, a 10-year-old boy died when the tractor he was driving overturned while turning off a public highway onto a gravel road. The tractor was towing a hay baler and loaded hayrack and was not equipped with a rollover protective structure (ROPS) and seat belt. He died from acute laceration of the brain with multiple skull fractures.

Case 3. On July 11, 1995, a 13-year-old boy died after being engulfed by corn inside a grain bin. The boy and his father were using a portable auger to unload corn from the bin into a truck. The youth uncovered the bin roof access opening and sat on the roof ladder to monitor the flow of corn. Fifteen minutes later, his father noticed the boy was no longer on the roof. He climbed to the roof but was unable to locate the boy. He shut down the auger and attempted to break open the bin with a loader-equipped tractor. Emergency personnel cut holes in the bin with power saws and extracted the youth. He was transported to a medical center but died two days later from complications of anoxic encephalopathy.

Case 4. On August 17, 1995, a 17-year-old boy died after he was struck by a front-end loader bucket. The boy was riding in a tractor with the farmer and dismounted the tractor to open a gate to allow the farmer to drive through. He then climbed into the bucket, which had been improperly secured. The farmer raised the bucket and proceeded down the driveway. The tractor struck a bump, bouncing the loader arms and disengaging the bucket. The boy fell and was struck by the falling bucket. He died from skull fracture and massive fracture of the cervical spine.

Case 5. On September 13, 1997, a 13-year-old boy died when he was run over by a grass seeder being towed by a tractor on sloped land. The youth was riding on the frame of the seeder and using his hand to ensure even seed flow when he lost his balance, fell from the seeder, and was run over. He died from severe chest and head trauma.

Reported by: DL Parker, MD, GL Wahl, MS, Minnesota Dept of Health. Div of Safety Research, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, CDC.

Editorial Note

Editorial Note: The fatalities described in this report represent common farm injuries and indicate that children who work on farms are exposed to the same injury risks as adults. In 1991, an estimated 1.2 million children aged less than or equal to 19 years resided on farms and ranches in the United States (3). Although the proportion of such children engaging in agricultural work is uncertain, a Minnesota survey indicated that approximately 40% of boys and 10% of girls in grades 10-12 who reside in rural areas had done some type of agricultural work during the preceding year (4). During 1992-1996, an estimated 300,000 youth aged 15-19 years were employed in the U.S. agricultural production and services sector (U.S. Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration, Bureau of the Census, unpublished data, 1998).

In the agricultural industry, children may perform tasks that are prohibited in other industries (5), be exposed to workplace hazards at an early age, and perform tasks that are inappropriate for their age (6). Compared with adults, youth may lack work experience, physical size, and attention to task. The ability of youth to operate equipment safely may be compromised by cognitive abilities that are less well developed than in adults, by diminished visibility from operators' cabs designed for adults, and by control layouts that may not accommodate their reach. In addition, they may have limited influence in business and operational decisions such as equipment purchases, work practices, and work assignments.

Safety requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 are not enforceable on 95% of U.S. farms. As a result, most farm owners lack the direction provided by mandatory safety standards to address the complex problem of controlling risk for both adult and youth workers (5). In addition, children engaged in agricultural work as family members are not covered by provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (7), which prohibits youth aged less than 16 years employed outside their family farm from performing hazardous agricultural tasks such as operating machinery, working from ladders greater than 20 feet high, and working in confined spaces. However, youth aged 14 and 15 years who have received safety training on specific topics through specialized programs may perform work activities otherwise prohibited for minors aged less than 16 years, and youth aged greater than or equal to 14 years may perform tasks other than those declared hazardous. Efforts are under way to develop consensus guidelines for developmentally appropriate tasks for children in agriculture (5).

The fatalities described in this report could have been prevented by adherence to standard safety practices applicable to workers of all ages (e.g., using of ROPS and seat belts, properly securing attachments, and operating at safe speeds). However, before allowing children to perform farm work, especially tasks involving operation of equipment, parents and farm managers should evaluate additional factors that may expose youth to increased risk for injury (8). CDC's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommends that parents and farm managers carefully consider the following questions before assigning work tasks to youth:

  • Does the youth possess the physical capacity to perform the task safely?

  • Does the youth have sufficient and appropriate training and experience?

  • Can the youth recognize and control potential hazards?

  • Can the youth read and understand safety instructions in operating manuals and on signs?

  • Is the youth mature enough to exercise good judgement?

  • Has the youth been trained to cope with emergencies?

  • Do work procedures accommodate physical characteristics of the youth?

  • Is adult supervision available?

References

  1. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Fatal workplace injuries in 1996: a collection of data and analysis. Washington, DC: US Department of Labor, 1998; report no. 922.

  2. Derstine B. Job-related fatalities involving youths, 1992-95. Compensation and Working Conditions 1996:1-3.

  3. Dacquel LT, Dahmann DC. Residents of farms and rural areas: 1991. Washington, DC: US Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration, Bureau of the Census 1993; current population reports (series P-20, no. 472).

  4. Parker DL, Carl WR, French LR, Martin FB. Nature and incidence of self-reported adolescent work injury in Minnesota. Am J Indust Med 1994;26:529-41.

  5. National Committee for Childhood Agricultural Injury Prevention. Children and agriculture: opportunities for safety and health. Marshfield, Wisconsin: Marshfield Clinic, 1996.

  6. Swanson JA, Sachs MI, Dahlgren KA, Tinguely SJ. Accidental farm injuries to children. Am J Dis Child 1987;141:1276-9.

  7. US Department of Labor, Employment Standards Administration, Wage and Hour Division. Child labor requirements in agriculture under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Washington, DC: US Department of Labor, 1990, (Child Labor Bulletin no. 102, WH 1295).

  8. Deere & Company. Farm & ranch safety management. 4th ed. Moline, Illinois: Deere & Company, 1994.

Through cooperative agreements with CDC's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, 15 states maintain multiple-source networks to identify traumatic occupational fatalities, conduct site investigations of selected incidents (including machinery deaths and falls from elevations), and disseminate injury-prevention information.




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