A recently released joint study performed by researchers at the University of California (Davis) and Old Dominion University shows that the majority – 77 percent – of all on-the-job injuries suffered by agricultural workers are unreported. With no input about the “real” number of injuries, statistics relied upon by federal and state agencies aimed at gauging workplace safety could be grossly skewed.

An example of the disparity between actual injuries and reported ones is well-illustrated by examining the information-gathering process of the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). In 2011, the year in which the study’s data was collected, the BLS reported 32,100 injuries to agricultural workers on both crop and animal farms. That number may seem relatively low given the huge portion of our country’s land devoted to farming or raising animals, and suggests that agricultural workplace accidents are fairly rare.

When the process by which the number of injuries is determined, though, a different picture emerges. The BLS only requires workplace data on a limited number of injuries from a limited number of farms, and doesn’t include:

  • Operations that have less than 11 employees
  • Injuries suffered by temporary or contract workers
  • Injuries incurred by family members working alongside the property owner/manager

Once those types of farming operations were accounted for, the original 32,100 injuries grows exponentially, to more than 143,430.

The UC Davis and Old Dominion study also gathered information about the types of injuries suffered by farm workers. These include:

  • Cuts
  • Crush injuries
  • Falls from farm equipment, silos, ladders or other heights
  • Lifting injuries
  • Machine or farm vehicle accidents
  • Toxic chemical exposure
  • Repetitive motion injuries

It is important to understand the true nature of agricultural job sites – and the injuries that happen on them – in order to keep the farms that supply our nation’s food running safely.

Source: Harvesting Justice, “Study Estimates that 77% of Agricultural Injuries are Unreported,” Cheryl Richards, May 20, 2014.