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What we don't know about farm hazards could be hurting workers

For a lot of people the view of rural life has probably been framed by pop culture. Think TV shows like "Green Acres" and John Denver's song "Thank God I'm a Country Boy."

The truth is that life on the farm these days is not so laid back. The job site may be rather isolated from an urbanite's perspective, but the work environments are more typical of what is found in an industrial or construction setting. Complex heavy equipment is often present. Chemicals that may be hazardous are commonly used. Where such conditions exist, risks of workplace injuries are high. 

While federal agencies such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration have the responsibility of making sure that all work environments are safe, new research indicates that's not happening. The implication, of course, is that where injuries go unreported, victims due workers compensation benefits may be taking a double hit. If they don't have the benefit of an attorney's help, they may be shortchanged on receiving assistance they're entitled to.

That there has been a gap between the frequency of accidents on the farm and the reports of them has been assumed for a long time. And now a study by researchers out of California indicates that the chasm is even greater than was thought.

According to the study, some 77 percent of all the work-related injuries and illnesses suffered by U.S. agriculture workers are never reported. Everything from musculoskeletal injuries to toxic exposures go unrecorded.

The study's author says the rate of oversight is probably three times greater than anyone previously presumed. He says the issue stems from regulators being so focused on mid- to large-sized farms. Smaller farms, which account for more than 50 percent of farming employment, get overlooked.

The researcher offers the observation that agriculture is a major economic force in the U.S. and could be even greater if more was done to improve the safety of workers in the industry.

Source: Iowa Farmer Today, "77 percent of U.S. ag injuries, illnesses unreported: Study," May 2, 2014

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