Making Iowa farms safer

The Gazette Opinion Staff
Published: November 12 2013 | 12:01 am - Updated: 28 March 2014 | 11:21 pm in
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The Gazette Editorial Board

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From 2001 through 2011, farming-related deaths in Iowa averaged 25 per year, a recent analysis of state data by IowaWatch.org found. Thatís the most of any occupation in Iowa. And given that fewer than 1 percent of Iowans are directly involved in farming these days, there are clearly elevated safety risks involved in working on the farm.

No wonder. Most Iowa farmers and workers they employ operate large, powerful machinery in a wide variety of weather and other challenging conditions. They handle many tons of grain that often must be stored in huge bins. Many also work with large livestock numbers.

Even for the most safety-conscious farmers, and with major equipment improvements, opportunities for serious injury or fatal accidents abound.

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration has jurisdiction over workplace safety nationwide. However, OSHAís enforcement is limited by funding to large farms with 11 or more employees. In Iowa, thatís not many. Most or all of the work on most farms is handled by family members, sometimes assisted by a handful of employees. In Iowa, about 20,000 people are full-time farm employees.

Should there be outcry to beef up OSHAís budget and greatly expand inspections? We donít think itís realistic, given federal budget woes and the logistics of enforcement on family farms, as well as the threat of overreaching regulation.

We do think itís wise to focus on education and awareness. For example, the Iowa Center for Agricultural Safety and Health, a collaboration of the Iowaís two largest public universities, offers farm safety reviews and recommendations to farmers. Since its launch in 1998, the programís data shows that Certified Safe Farms saw substantially reduced medical costs from occupational injuries. And I-CASH efforts likely deserve some credit for a decline in farm fatalities when comparing the 1990s to the most recent decade.

Not surprising. Who would have more reason to use safer farm practices than farmers and their families?

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