As workplace accidents across the country have declined over the last decade, the number of Midwestern farm deaths has climbed 30 percent. And even though farms have eclipsed mines and construction sites as deadly workplaces, government safety regulators rarely investigate farm workers’ deaths, according to a four-part investigation by the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
Farmers are supposed to follow the same workplace safety guidelines as everyone else, but Congress has routinely exempted farms with fewer than 11 employees from those requirements. Those small farms are where most fatal accidents happen.
When someone dies doing their job, state and federal workplace safety officials are supposed to investigate what went wrong. But in Minnesota, those regulators have investigated only 6 of 210 farm deaths in recent years.
Meanwhile in Washington state, regulators hold small farms accountable to the same safety standards as the big ones. And the state also provides safety consulting services to small farms that wouldn’t qualify for help elsewhere. As a result, Washington has the fewest farm deaths among the states that reported any — even though its farming workforce is larger than any Midwestern state.