Implications of Risk Perceptions and Social Influences on Safety Programming for Senior Farmers

  • Whitman, Scott

Agricultural injury and fatality data collected over the last 25 years have shown a growing proportion of the cases involving senior farmers and agricultural workers. Data indicate that approximately one-third of all farm fatalities involve a person over 60 years of age. Farm tractors are the most commonly reported causal agent for fatalities in the population. A review of over 800 cases of fatal farm-related injuries among individuals age 60 and over found 62% involved farm tractors (unpublished data from the Purdue Farm Fatality Database). Evidence also indicates older farmers often do not recognize, or do not acknowledge, that they are susceptible to serious injury.

The Purdue Agricultural Safety and Health program recently conducted a national survey of senior farmers (n=295) to assess their perceptions concerning work-related safety risks, and to learn more about the attitudes and social influences that affect their safety-related beliefs and work behaviors. The study found that senior farmers' ratings of tractor-related risks, though significantly higher than their younger counterparts, reflected perceptions that tractors were only moderately risky in elation to other farm hazards. Survey findings also showed that senior farmers tend to undervalue the need for roll-over protective structures (ROPS), and underestimate the device's effectiveness in preventing injuries.

It was found that senior farmers' safety beliefs are influenced by news accounts and personal stories of farm injuries and fatalities, particularly when conveyed through highly used media such as farm magazines. Family members (primarily parents and spouses) and other farmers also influenced senior farmers' beliefs about work safety. The survey showed seniors farmers most often use farm magazines, exhibits, and interpersonal networks to obtain information about safety.

The findings of this study indicate safety communication programs designed for senior farm tractor operators should utilize farm publications, peer networks, and family members in delivering safety messages that address farmers' perceptions of susceptibility to common tractor-related hazards, and encourage the use of ROPS and other safety devices.

This research abstract was extracted from a portion of the proceedings of "Agricultural Safety and Health: Detection, Prevention and Intervention," a conference presented by the Ohio State University and the Ohio Department of Health, sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control/National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

S.D. Whitman, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN.

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