Age Factor in Montana’s Farm Fatalities

By Beacon Staff

HELENA (AP) – Montana’s farm and ranch population is aging and older workers in agriculture are more likely to die in work-related accidents, according to the Montana Department of Agriculture.

The number of Montana fatalities in the occupational category of agriculture, forestry and fishing declined to 45 in 2006, from 50 the previous year, the state Agriculture Department said. However, agricultural operators and employees over the age of 65 account for a disproportionate share of fatal occupational injuries, the department said in a recent news release.

An estimated 4 percent of Montana’s total work force of 505,398 was age 65 or older in 2006, yet the age group accounted for 16 percent or seven of the 45 deaths in the farm and forestry category. In 2005, 13 farm and forestry workers in the age group died of occupational injuries.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health says workers age 75 and older are twice as likely to die as younger farmers from work-related accidents. Injuries to older workers also result in higher average costs and more time away from work, according to insurance company reports.

Ron de Yong, director of the Montana Department of Agriculture, said agriculture is inherently dangerous because the work involves moving equipment, uneven slopes, fuel and electrical risks, unpredictable animals and long hours during peak work periods.

“The lesson for all of us is to not push ourselves beyond our limits and to always take time to work safely,” de Yong said.

The average age of Montana farm and ranch operators was 55.4 years, according to the 2002 Census of Agriculture, the most recent survey available. The average has increased steadily during the past two decades and can be expected to rise as people live longer and retire later and newcomers find it difficult to make the capital investment necessary to farm or ranch as a full-time occupation, de Yong says.

The National Safety Council celebrates “Farm Safety and Health Week” each year on the week that includes the first day of fall, this year on September 17-23. By mid-September, most grain harvesting in Montana is complete but transportation of crops remains in full swing.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.