|Politico graphic by Edmon de Haro|
That estimate is considered low, largely because "small farms have been exempted from federal oversight for so long that it’s virtually impossible for anyone—regulators, lawmakers, even the farmers themselves—to understand fully the epidemic of workplace injuries and deaths that has plagued rural America for at least a century," Kullgren writes.
"A perennial rider to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration budget bill prevents the agency from inspecting or enforcing violations on any farm with fewer than 11 employees—a loophole that exempts up to 88 percent of all U.S. farms," Kullgren notes. "The rider also prevents OSHA from tallying nonfatal injury data on small farms, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t keep reliable data on farm size."
Kullgren continues: "As a result, occupational safety—or the lack of it—is a major and largely unexamined contributor to a cycle of disability, poverty and chronic poor health that makes life difficult for millions of rural Americans. Many of those injuries last a lifetime, driving up disability rates among rural Americans, who are 50 percent more likely to have some form of disability than their urban counterparts. Also contributing are high rates of injury in other professions rooted in rural areas, including logging, fishing and trucking."
Some of the reasons for high rates of injuries and fatalities are older equipment, such as tractors, youth workers or children around farms who are inexperienced with safety guidelines, and a reverence for the agrarian ideal, Kullgren writes. "Small farmers are also strong-willed. Nobody loves being regulated by the government, but small farmers hate it more than most. Many see it as an affront to a way of life in which skills are passed down from generation to generation. And in an industry where weather determines success and failure, farmers are accustomed to dealing with risk."