Newly-gathered data on work-related farm deaths in Canada over an 18-year span shows a marked drop in such deaths after the turn of the millennium, suggesting a "greater commitment" to managing safety risks.
A report from Canadian Agricultural Injury Reporting (CAIR), documenting farm fatalities from 1990 to 2008, puts the average number of such cases per year from 1990 to 2000 at 118; that average drops to 89 in the period from 2000 to 2008.
The number of fatalities per year ranges from a high of 140 in 1994 to a low of 80 in 2007 (estimated based on incomplete data for Quebec from 2006 to 2008).
"Although our goal of zero deaths is the only acceptable number, the new numbers are encouraging," says Marcel Hacault, executive director of the Winnipeg-based Canadian Agricultural Safety Association (CASA), which backstops the volunteer-led CAIR program.
"We’re definitely seeing evidence of a greater commitment to managing safety risks on farms. Farmers are beginning to build safety plans into their business operations and we’re seeing increased interest in safety training courses for agricultural employees," he said in a release Thursday. "Changing a safety culture is slow work but these new numbers do show progress."
In all, CAIR logged 1,975 agricultural deaths in Canada from 1990 to 2008, of which 70 per cent (1,381) were related to machinery; 46 per cent (903) were caused by either rollovers (392), runovers (354) or entanglements (157).
The injuries causing the deaths took place mostly in the field (461), in the farmyard (348), on the road or highway (260) or in the barn (146).
The data, Hacault said, shows agricultural injuries are not random or isolated "accidents," but are predictable and preventable with recurrent patterns of injury.
"If more producers made sure all their tractors had rollover protection systems (ROPS) and wore seatbelts, it would go a long way toward making farm work safer," he said.
Of the total deaths, most occurred among people aged 50 to 59 (312) followed by ages 60 to 69 (309) — but the highest fatality rate was among farmers 80 years old or older, which at 130 deaths translates to a work-related farm fatality rate of 79.7 deaths per 100,000 farm population.
CAIR’s statistics also pointed to a marked decrease in the number of agricultural-related child deaths (ages 15 and under) in Canada. Of the 248 recorded cases from 1990 to 2008, the average number of cases per year dropped from 16 in the 1990-2000 period to 10 during 2000-2008.
"While this drop is encouraging, the actual fatality rate of children adjusted for population has only decreased an average of 0.4 per cent annually," CASA said in a separate release Thursday.
In about eight out of 10 cases, the child victim was not actually performing farm tasks, but was killed as someone else was doing agricultural work — for example, in cases where a child passenger falls from a tractor or a combine backs over a child bystander.
At least 45 per cent of child deaths on farms occurred close to the farmhouse, such as in the farmyard, driveway, barn or shed, CAIR noted. About 63 per cent of child deaths were machine-related, including runovers, rollovers and entanglements, mostly involving tractors (47 per cent), off-road vehicles (13 per cent) and motor vehicles (12 per cent).
"It is especially crucial for adults to keep preschool children away from farm work at all times," said Pamela Fuselli, CAIR co-chair and vice-president of government and public relations for Parachute Canada, a Toronto-based charitable organization focused on injury prevention. "An adult who is engaged in agricultural tasks cannot supervise a preschool child adequately at the work site."
Parents, she said, must also take responsibility for ensuring all tasks assigned to children are appropriate for their age and abilities.
Among the children killed on the farm, 73 per cent were the children of the farm’s owner/operators, while about 10 per cent were visiting children and about nine per cent were other relatives of the owner/operator.
For children ages 14 and under, runovers caused the most fatal injuries (39 per cent), followed by drownings (16 per cent), rollovers (12 per cent) and "animal-related incidents" (six per cent).
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