Farm-related incidents, fatalities still big concern in South Dakota

MITCHELL, S.D. -- One of South Dakota's top industries is also one of the most dangerous places to work. The National Safety Council has dubbed agriculture the most dangerous industry to work in. "A lot of family farms don't undergo safety traini...


MITCHELL, S.D. - One of South Dakota’s top industries is also one of the most dangerous places to work.

The National Safety Council has dubbed agriculture the most dangerous industry to work in.

“A lot of family farms don’t undergo safety training and yet, they have a lot of hazards on the farm,” said Amber Vandersnick, an occupational safety and health manager with the South Dakota Safety Council. “Every year you hear of people dying in confined spaces.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2014, there were three fatal injuries directly attributed to farming, fishing and forestry in South Dakota. In 2015, there was zero.

Numbers for 2016 have not been finalized, but the tally will rise.


In The Daily Republic’s coverage area last year, there were two farming-related fatalities. One in June, when a 35-year-old man of Springfield was operating a sprayer when the equipment was tangled in an overhead power line. In an attempt to escape the tractor, he was electrocuted and died on scene.

The second fatality occurred in October, when a 16-year-old Winner High School student died from injuries he sustained being trapped in a grain bin a day earlier.

Incidents like these are sad and devastating to a community, said Vandersnick, adding the South Dakota Safety Council’s mission is to eliminate preventable deaths and injuries at work, home and in communities - including the farm. It offers training in hopes to educate more farmers on the hazardous conditions surrounding them.

As National Ag Week approaches this month, the organization is emphasizing the dangers of working on a farm.

Focus on training For Vandersnick, the majority of her work focuses on general industry and construction training for compliance by Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA.

A big part of training is creating awareness and helping industry realize that there are a lot of hazards in every occupation, she said.

In agriculture especially, Vandersnick said, some farmers need to “dig a little deeper” if they don’t have a plan or know about all of the dangers.

When providing OSHA training, Vandersnick covers machine guarding, fall protection, hazardous chemicals, walking and work surfaces and developing an emergency action plan.


While Vandersnick didn’t have any specific numbers, she said the two most common injuries and deaths are related to machine guarding and Power Take-off (PTO) shafts. Machine guarding is a precautionary safety feature on equipment that acts as a shield or device to cover the hazardous areas of the machine. The PTO shaft is the means of transferring power between tractors and implements.

To help prevent injuries, the council hosts safety trainings throughout the year. And in March, the organization will be hosting introductory classes on both safety and health on March 21-23. Anyone interested in those can contact the Sioux-Falls based Safety Council, Vandersnick said.

“It blows my mind every year because who in South Dakota hasn’t heard of someone falling through the crust of a grain bin and getting engulfed. And yet, it still happens every year,” Vandersnick said. “ ... And farmers will say ‘Well, nothing's ever happened to me.’ Well it’s not because you’re good, it’s because you’re lucky.”

Nationwide increase There are other groups dedicated to protecting the state’s agricultural workers.

For one, the South Dakota State University Extension office provides training and awareness seminars highlighting the many dangers on the farm.

Many farmers tend to “put-off” safety on the farm, when it’s something that should not be overlooked, said Tracey Erickson, dairy field specialist for the SDSU Extension.

“Instead it needs to be a part of our daily routines in farming,” Erickson said. “Agriculture unfortunately has been an occupation with one of the higher incident rates for accidents and fatalities.”

Erickson cites the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics when saying it’s one of the highest incident rates for accidents and fatalities per 100,000 workers. Nationwide in 2015, the group reported that fatal injuries in farming, fishing, and forestry occupations increased 10 percent to 284 fatalities - the highest level reported for the group in seven years and a 22 percent increase from 2014.


For the state’s youth, SDSU Extension has specific training, including HOSTA - Hazardous Occupational Safety Training in Agriculture - for children ages 14-15, who need certification to work on farms outside of their family.

Childhood dangers When 16-year-old Taylor Watzel died on a farm near Winner, the community mourned his loss. His death reminded the area and state of the many dangers a farm bears for children.

And a few months ago, the 2016 fact sheet for the childhood agriculture industries in the United States was released, noting that there are many more children dying from farm-related injuries.

The report, released by the National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety, said a child dies in an agriculture-related incident in the U.S every three days.

The leading source of fatalities for all youth was machinery, followed by motor vehicles and drownings. For working youth, the report found that tractors were the leading source of fatalities, followed by ATVs.

Seeing these statistics, Vandersnick said she is surprised every year to hear about farming accidents. But for many South Dakotans, they farm the way they were taught, and for some, this is with a lack of safety, she said.

“The tough part, in South Dakota, you either got young people or you got the old people. If young people went to college and did a business program, sometimes they tie a little safety in that and start bringing it forward,” Vandersnick said. “But a lot of the older generation say “Well, this is the way we’ve always done it.’ And sometimes that doesn’t work so well.”

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