Farm accidents in Rural NY: statistical study from 1929- 1938

  • Powers, John H.


Agricultural accidents were responsible for nearly one fourth of all the serious injuries treated at a medium sized rural hospital in the central part of New York State during the years 1929- 1938 inclusive. Such accidents showed a definite seasonal variation with a peak during July and August, for which haying, the playing of children and other unclassified activities were largely responsible.

Fifty per cent of all farm accidents occurred either in the barn or in the barnyard.

Routine chores were the most dangerous single motivating activity, with logging and haying next in order of frequency. Farm tools and implements, animals, machinery and vehicles all contributed their share of injuries in about equal proportions. Falls were numerous.

Males were involved with ten times the frequency of females.

Nearly 50 per cent of the patients reached the hospital within two hours.

Fractures comprised one third of all injuries; division of nerves and tendons and partial or complete amputations of fingers and hands were common. The shoulder and upper extremity were injured more frequently than the hip and lower extremity.

The average period of hospitalization was 18.3 days and the average number of outpatient visits was 5.7.

The monetary loss incidental to a serious injury was for most farmers a major financial catastrophe. Twenty per cent were unable to pay anything for their hospitalization and professional care.

The mortality was 5.1 per cent.


JOURNAL: JAMA. 1939; 113(15): 1375- 1379.

Note: Journal of the American Medical Association. JAMA.

NLOM ID#: No ID #.

In this article, a physician at a rural hospital presents an analysis of 310 patients who came to a Cooperstown, NY hospital for treatment of an injury incurred on the farm. Several analyses are presented:

  • what activity the patient was engaged in at the time of the injury;
  • the direct cause of the injury;
  • the frequency by season of the injuries;
  • distribution by age and sex;
  • interval between accident and admission;
  • class of injury and affected body region (topography);
  • period of hospitalization;
  • and a fiscal analysis.
The last analysis focused on the ability of the farmer to pay for treatment and the financial catastrophe that injury causes to farmers.

The cases considered included nonfatal as well as fatal injuries, all persons dwelling on a farm, as opposed to those engaged only in labor, and incidents which might have been otherwise classified as long as they occurred on a farm or involved farm machinery. Homicides and suicides were also included to emphasize the apparently increased rate of mental health issues suffered in rural settings.

The article is followed by comments from a number of doctors interested in agricultural safety and health.

The article and the comments emphasize the need for education and for the safety interventions that were being applied in industry at the time to be also applied in agriculture. One of the commentators lists several reasons for the high rate of injury on the farm: primitive, makeshift tools... improper use of ill-adapted tools... machinery on the farm is almost completely unguarded.... their fathers [and grandfathers] did it that way before them... and why should they change their methods.

The high level of communicable diseases and illness due to environmental exposure is also cited.

This document was extracted from the CDC-NIOSH Epidemiology of Farm Related Injuries: Bibliography With Abstracts, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Centers for Disease Control, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

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