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Apr 23

Aging farmers at risk on machinery

Posted on Apr 23 By: Natalie Noble

Vital to the Canadian agriculture system, older farmers continue to contribute in their later years by working on machinery, which exposes them to risk. Credit: Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development
A recent report published by the University of Alberta (UofA) revealed that, as North American farmers age, their exposure to dangerous farm equipment increases and raises the risk for injury and death.

The Older Farmers and Machinery Exposure—Cause for Concern study showed that while the average hourly work week decreases for farmers over 60, the time spent operating heavy farm machinery increases.

“Farm families should be aware that when distributing tasks on the farm, sending the older farmers out on the equipment is exposing them to a lot of risk— they might not realize that,” said Dr. Don Voaklander, a U of A professor and director of the Alberta Centre for Injury Control and Research (ACICR), and the study’s lead author.

The study, published in 2012, presented 20 years of data researched and compiled for the Canadian Agricultural Injury Reporting (CAIR) by the ACICR at the U of A. Between 1990 and 2009, of the 132 deaths tracked, 94 were ma- chine-related. Tractor rollovers were the most common cause of death, followed by being struck or pinned.

Voaklander said that preventative efforts for aging farmers should focus on the safe operation of machinery as well as regular and preventative maintenance. Avoiding low-light situations, delegating older farmers to newer machinery with better safety features, and increasing communication are also recommended.

According to Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development (AARD), nearly half the seniors in Alberta’s workforce are farmers. The necessity for these farmers to keep contributing on their farms often forces them to operate machinery because other age-related difficulties prevent them from performing more physical tasks. This becomes problematic because of their decreased ability to do jobs that were once routine, such as driving a combine.

This is a very familiar topic to Kenda Lubek, AARD farm safety coordinator. “This, as any safety issue, is a serious problem and our concern is very high,” she said.

Older farmers who work with heavy machinery are affected by declining sensory-motor performance, including problems with vision, hearing, memory, vigilance and decision-making, as well as increasing occurrences of disability and disease. The U of A study revealed these challenges as factors leading to injury on the farm, and related them to car crashes among older drivers.

As for a solution, Lubek suggested that communication is key.

“Families and community members need to become more aware of [the risk], and increase communication when older farmers are working in potentially risky situations,” said Lubek.

While she and Dr. Voaklander both acknowledge that, for many farm families, the operation of machinery by older members is more of a necessity than a choice, there are preventative measures that can be taken to reduce risk.

“This doesn’t necessarily mean the aging farmer can’t do the work, it just means there needs to be adaptations,” said Lubek. “It is particularly important that the aging farmer can confidently express any concerns and be heard by the rest of the family or work team. The more families and communities become aware of this and people talk about it, the more adaptions can be made to prevent injuries.”
For more information on farm injury and safety, visit

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