The agricultural industry is one of the most profitable in North Carolina, accounting for nearly one-third of the state's gross income and employing about a quarter of its work force. Top commodities include tobacco, turkey, sweet potatoes, pigs, Christmas trees and trout.
However, agricultural occupations are undoubtedly among the most dangerous.
As we head into the height of the summer and on into the fall harvest season, our Waynesville workers' compensation attorneys feel it's imperative for employers to take stock of any potential hazards that may arise as the season gets into full swing.
In March, NPR detailed a series of entrapment deaths caused at grain bins across the country. Men and sometimes even teenagers were killed after becoming trapped inside grains bins and buried alive.
These incidents began drawing attention to the dangers faced down by agricultural workers who are responsible for producing the foods we enjoy on our tables daily.
Also taking note of these alarming incidents was the Occupational Safety & Health Administration, which recently teamed up with The Ohio State University to formally study the problem.
According to the team's latest report, a total of 26 U.S. workers were killed in grain engulfments in 2010. That was the highest year on record. In the last 50 years, there have been more than 900 incidents of grain engulfment, with a fatality rate reaching near 65 percent.
The Midwest region OSHA director said his office is working to combat the six biggest hazards in the grain and feed industry, which are:
- Auger entanglement;
- "Struck by" incidents;
- Combustible dust explosions;
- Electrocution hazards.
Some of these incidents occur at farms that employ fewer than 10 people, which employees may not realize means the company is not under OSHA's jurisdiction or safety oversight.
The agricultural industry is one of the largest employers of youth under the age of 20, with an estimated 750,000 in this age groups working at farms as of 2009, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control on Prevention.
In 2010, a total of more than 475 farmers and farm workers died as a result of work-related injuries, creating a death rate of 26.1 for every 100,000 workers. On average, about 115 of these are youth under the age of 20.
The top cause of farm fatalities? Tractor overturns, followed by motor vehicle crashes and drownings.
In addition to those fatalities, about 3,400 youth under the age of 20 suffered injuries while doing farm work. About five percent of those incidents resulted in permanent impairment.
These are young men and women whose lives have been either tragically cut short or their future livelihood has been severely impacted, often due to the negligence of employers who refused to ensure all proper safety procedures were in place. When that happens, these agricultural firms must be held accountable.