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2023 Pennsylvania farm fatality report calls attention to agricultural hazards

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — In 2023, 33 people died of injuries suffered in farm-related incidents in Pennsylvania, according to farm-safety specialists in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences, who emphasized the need for education and policies to reduce risk for workers and farm-family members.


To help identify hazards and risks associated with production, Penn State Extension’s Agricultural Safety and Health team produces annual summaries of Pennsylvania’s farm fatalities. The team, which includes experts from the college’s Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, recently released the “2023 Pennsylvania Farm Fatal Injury Summary.”



Rollover protection structures, or ROPS, like the one shown retrofitted onto this older tractor, are 99% effective in preventing injury or death in the event of a tractor overturn when used with a seatbelt. Credit: Penn State.



The 33 farm-related deaths in the state last year was a decrease from 2022’s 37 fatalities but higher than the 10-year annual average of 28. In line with previous years and national data, fatal incidents disproportionately affected young children and older adults. Six victims were under 10 years old, and 13 were at least 65 years old. Three of the five victims aged five or younger were presumed to be Anabaptist — which includes the Amish — and more than 80% of the victims were male, as seen in past years.


Transportation incidents, which include tractor overturns and roadway crashes, are the leading cause of death for farmers and farm workers across the country. Pennsylvania data continues to reflect these national statistics, with 13 of the 33 fatal incidents connected to vehicles. Five of the 2023 victims died from injuries related to farm tractors, and all these incidents involved the operator being pinned or trapped under a tractor, with at least three involving overturns.



Although farmers cannot avoid all risks in an unpredictable farm environment, many tractor-related injuries and deaths are preventable, the team noted. Rollover protection structures, or ROPS, are 99.9% effective in reducing serious injuries and deaths from tractor rollovers when combined with the use of a seatbelt.


“There have been cases where a farmer used one of our rollover systems and subsequently survived an accident when the tractor would have otherwise crushed them,” said Judd Michael, professor of agricultural and biological engineering in the college.


Retrofit ROPS options are available for older farm tractors, and the team offers funding to assist with tractor retrofit costs for ROPS systems, supported by the Pennsylvania legislature and the Pennsylvania Department of Economic and Community Development. Pennsylvania farmers interested in retrofit options can visit the national ROPS website or contact Peggy Newel, administrative support assistant in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, at png1@psu.edu for more information.


Tractors were not the only hazardous farm equipment linked to fatalities in 2023. All-terrain vehicles and utility task vehicles have become more common in agriculture, and two fatalities resulted from incidents involving these vehicles, including one rollover and one collision. Skid-steer and wagon-related incidents also caused fatalities.


Other causes of death included falling, being pinned or thrown by a large animal, compression and contact with equipment or objects. The team continues to recommend that all older Pennsylvania farmers, and their family members, take extra precautions when using or working around hazardous equipment and when working at heights or with large animals.


Five children aged five and under died on farms in 2023. Supervising children and keeping them away from dangerous areas are crucial for reducing fatalities in this age group, said Florence Becot, Nationwide Insurance Early Career Professor, who leads agricultural safety and health programs at Penn State.


Educating children about hazards and setting boundaries can protect children from dangers such as manure pits, grain bins and areas with operating tractors and equipment, she explained, adding that farm parents looking for help finding and paying for childcare services can consult Pennsylvania’s Compass website.


Penn State Extension offers an abundance of resources to promote safety and health for those involved in production agriculture. The agricultural safety and health website contains educational guides, videos, courses and other resources on animal handling, farm equipment safety, disaster preparedness, personal protective gear and many other topics.


“The number of farm and agriculture-related fatalities continues to cause significant losses, both economic and human, that should be addressed by policymakers, educational institutions and others charged with oversight of the safety and health of commonwealth citizens,” Michael said.

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