Twenty-three people died in farm accidents in Indiana in 2010, the fourth consecutive year farm-related deaths totaled at least 20, according to a Purdue University study released Sept. 20.
The Indiana Farm Fatality Summary found that the leading causes of farm deaths were overturned tractors and workers being run over by farm machinery, said Bill Field, Purdue Extension farm safety specialist.
Purdue issued the annual study at the Indiana Farm Bureau Building in Indianapolis to coincide with National Farm Safety and Health Week.
The 23 farm deaths were three more than reported in 2009 but five fewer than in 2008. Just eight farm deaths were reported in 2006, the fewest number since Purdue began collecting the data about 30 years ago.
"We're doing better so far this year. Our number of fatalities could be below 15," Field said.
Farming ranks among the nation's most dangerous occupations. The National Safety Council reports that the occupational death rate among farmers is 31.6 fatalities per 100,000 workers, compared with 3.5 deaths per the same number of workers in non-farm industries.
Farm deaths could be significantly reduced, Field said. Most farm accidents can be avoided if farmers use proper safety equipment and keep children away from dangerous work environments.
"Every one of the five incidents involving tractor overturns in Indiana this past year could have been prevented through the use of rollover protective structures," Field said. "And there is no reason to continue having young children die as a result of involvement with skid steer loaders, on-farm sawmills and grain handling equipment, as reported in 2010."
Rollover protective structures, known as ROPs, are metal frames that attach to the top of a tractor's driver compartment. Although ROPs have been standard equipment in tractors since the 1985 model year, farmers sometimes remove the frames to fit a tractor through shorter storage building doors.
In addition to the fatalities, slightly more than 6,700 non-fatal farm injuries were reported in Indiana in 2010, Field said.
"Some of these left no visible scars, but some changed the victim's life forever due to amputations, head injuries and spinal cord injuries," he said.
Field hopes the agriculture industry has not reached a point where fatalities are considered a normal part of the job.
"One death is one death too many," he said. "I hope we don't forget the real costs of producing affordable and safe food."