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Avoiding harm on the farm: Human factors

A.C. McLaughlin, C.B. Mayhorn

Gerontechnology 2011; 10(1):26-37 doi:


The high accident rate in agricultural work, especially for older farmers, indicates a need for increased safety and prevention research. This can contribute to increased safety on the farm, from engineering to human factors and ergonomics. Methods The current set of studies used two distinctly different research approaches to identify areas most linked to agricultural safety incidents. Focus groups including older farmers and an analysis of archived data produced descriptions of where, when, and how accidents occur, and what hazards contributed to these accidents. The database used was the Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (FACE) database of fatal farm-related accidents. This database contains a structured narrative account of each accident. Cases were coded to capture the demographics of the victim, the environmental conditions during the accident, the machinery involved, and other variables related to the accident. The average age of farmers involved in fatal accidents was over fifty years and many of them were using decades-old equipment when they died. These data are presented in terms of frequencies and a cluster analysis was performed to identify patterns of accident types. Focus group discussions identified the knowledge and attitudes of older farmers related to their work and equipment. Results In general, older farmers understood that they had slower reaction times than when they were younger; however, the prevailing attitude was that a task must be accomplished by any means necessary. This included working in poor visual conditions, past the point of fatigue, and using equipment for tasks other than for which it was designed. Last, older farmers were aware of numerous accidents related to their profession and expressed an acceptance of risk as well as the attitude that those who had accidents were not careful enough. Conclusion The findings from these studies can be used to motivate influential safety research. Older farmers stand to benefit greatly from applied work in this area once their general behavior patterns with farming technology are understood. The goal of the current studies was to link the information from farming accidents with the knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors of older farmers to direct the solving of safety problems through engineering, human factors, and industrial design.

Keywords: aging workforce; focus group; farm safety; archival data

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Gerontechnology (ISSN/EISSN 1569-1101 1569-111X) is the official journal of the International Society for Gerontechnology