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Agricultural Health and Safety Frequently Asked Questions

How many children are involved in agricultural injuries?

According to the 2014 Fact Sheet: Childhood Agricultural Injuries in the U.S., 38 children are injured every day in an agriculture-related incident. Agriculture has a high fatality rate among youth workers compared to all industries, with machinery accidents, motor vehicles, and drowning being the main cause of death. Many youth are injured in nonfatal injuries while performing farm work, working with livestock, and operating farm equipment.

The Department of Agriculture reports there are 2.2 million farms in the U.S., with an estimated 1 million children living on these farms. According to Blueprint for Protecting Children in Agriculture: The 2012 National Action Plan, in 2009, an estimated 15,000 nonfatal injuries occurred to children.

What health risks are farmers exposed to?

Health risks farmers are exposed to include:

  • Toxic gases from manure decomposition produce methane, carbon dioxide, ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, and hydrogen disulfide.
  • Silo crop storage produces gases such as nitrogen dioxide, an extremely toxic, yellowish-brown gas with a bleach-like odor. When nitrogen dioxide is inhaled and comes in contact with the moisture in your lungs, it actually forms nitric acid. This acid causes chemical burns of the airway and lungs, and sometimes complete asphyxiation. Silo gas acts very fast. Many people inhale it and never regain consciousness. Those who do survive often have permanent disability because of scarring of the lung tissue.
  • Dusts in livestock, resulting in asphyxiation, lung damage and respiratory problems.
  • Ultraviolet rays from the sun, resulting in skin cancer.
  • Joint and ligament injuries, resulting in arthritic conditions which affect mobility.
  • Exposure to loud noises and sounds from machinery and equipment, resulting in hearing loss.
  • Exposure to agricultural chemicals, pesticides, and anhydrous ammonia.
  • Stress from droughts, floods, pests, long hours, financial concerns, and feelings of isolation and frustration.
  • Having to travel long distances to receive health care.

How can family members and children be protected from exposure to pesticides?

According to studies done by the Pacific Northwest Agricultural Safety and Health Center, children who live near pesticide-treated farmland may have higher exposures than children living further away from spray activities. A study of preschool children living in the tree fruit regions where agricultural spraying occurs had increased levels of pesticide in their urine compared to periods of non-spraying.  

Another study discovered that children of lead-exposed construction workers were six times more likely to have blood lead levels over the recommended limit as compared to children whose parents did not work in lead-related industries.

To protect family members from take-home contamination, a few things can be done such as changing into clean clothing and shoes before leaving work, removing shoes before entering the house, washing hands often, and washing work clothes separately.

Growers should provide employees with the time and facilities to change clothes and wash, as is required in high exposure lead jobs. Growers can support conscientious employees who are taking precautions and encourage lax workers to begin doing so. It is through this kind of active cooperation between workers and producers that we can both secure the benefits of pesticide use and minimize the risks associated with these chemicals.

Last Reviewed: 8/28/2013

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Funding for this project was supported by Grant Number U56RH05539 from the Office of Rural Health Policy, Health Resources and Services Administration, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The contents of this website are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the funder.