According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, "288,000 agricultural workers between the ages of 15 and 79 have a disability that affects their ability to perform one or more essential tasks” in the United States. These workers may be employed on family farms, food processing plants or working for agriculture departments at the local, state or national level. A person who works in the agriculture industry is often aware of the inherent dangers of working with, or around, the various types of equipment necessary for doing these jobs. Despite a lot of care working under dangerous conditions, injuries are common in all age groups.
Agriculture Worker Disabilities
There are a number of disabilities that can make working difficult, and not all of them are physical disabilities. According to AgrAbility, the following are the disabilities reported by farmers receiving services through this government agency:
- Joint replacements
- Back, leg, arm or joint injuries
- Amputations involving the upper or lower extremities
- Neuromuscular disorders, including but not limited to Cerebral Palsy, ALS and Multiple Sclerosis
- Spinal cord injuries resulting in paralysis
- Head injuries
- Heart disease
- Respiratory illness
- Visual impairment
- Hearing impairment
- Chemical sensitivity
The causes of the aforementioned disabilities are as follows:
- 32 percent of the disabilities are caused by falls, farm machinery or equipment accidents, and livestock-related injuries
- 24 percent are non-farm related injuries, such as those sustained in car accidents, falls or recreational accidents
- 44 percent are non-farm related disabilities, such as arthritis, heart disease and diabetes
A large number of individuals who are disabled work on their own, or a local family farm. In rural areas, summer employment for teenagers often consists of working in various capacities on a farm. Families work farms that have been passed down for generations, with little thought given to leaving their farm work if they become disabled. Rather, they find ways to accommodate their disabilities so that they can keep on earning a living.
Agriculture workers also include pickers, packers, delivery drivers and inspectors, as well as a variety of other agriculture-related jobs. These workers may be part-time, full-time or seasonal, depending upon the agriculture industry they are working in. Injuries can be sustained under any working conditions, regardless of age or skill level.
Organizations, such as AgrAbility, help agriculture workers find the help they need to keep working their job. They provide access to services, such as job training, and help connect disabled workers with other service organizations that can help them make their jobs accessible.
In many cases, agriculture workers do not have to give up their jobs if they become partially disabled. There are many different ways to make their jobs accessible, from the installation of accessible equipment, such as lifts, to job training for new careers in the agriculture industry. There are many organizations that can help a disabled worker fund the purchase of adaptive equipment, as well as provide training for the workers and their caregivers to learn how to use the equipment. In addition, there are many services available to disabled workers to help them regain their independence.
Organizations that can help disabled agriculture workers include the following:
- AgrAbility.org - is sponsored by the United States Department of Agriculture. Its goal is to “minimize obstacles that inhibit success in production agriculture or agriculture-related occupations.”
- National Farmworker Alliance - founded to improve the working conditions and lives of America’s seasonal and migrant farm workers.
- National Ag Safety Database: Farming with Disabilities - provides information on topics ranging from conserving energy for workers with Rheumatoid Arthritis to safety tips for farming with quadriplegia.
- American’s with Disabilities Act - provides information and links to government agencies that provide assistance to disabled ag workers.
- OIC of Washington - provides assistance for disabled farmers in Washington state.