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Risky business: health hazards abound for farmers

Agriculture.com Staff 07/08/2010 @ 11:00pm

An increased risk of respiratory disease and a farm fatality rate significantly higher than general industry are just two of the problems faced by farmers and farm workers today. These and other topics have been addressed in a three-year agricultural health and safety study coordinated at the University of Illinois.

Chip Petrea, a U of I Extension safety specialist who coordinated the project, says the study showed some of the more pressing health and safety issues faced by the ag community. Following is a list of some of the greater risks:

Dangerous tasks. The fatality rate per 100,000 workers in ag production is 25.8, compared to an all-industry fatality rate of 5.0 - making it more than five times as high.

Exposure to organic dust and toxic gases. This increases the risk of acute and chronic respiratory disease.

Exposure to dangerous compounds. Exposure to certain pesticide-related compounds is thought to be associated with several cancers, particularly among those with the most direct exposures, such as farmworkers and pesticide mixers.

Disabling diseases, injuries. These are often due to age-related disease (which has increased with the mean age) and an increase in the number of farm operators with physical disabilities. Spinal cord injuries and amputations are the most frequently occurring disabling conditions.

Lack of medical services in rural areas. The study findings reinforced that the agricultural community is primarily dependent on emergency medical service departments made up of unpaid volunteers. What's more, local medical services (physicians, emergency rooms, clinics, ambulances and/or emergency medical technicians) are increasingly scarce for all rural residents, especially those whose principal language is other than English.

High cost of medical services and the lack of availability of health insurance.

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