The story is a heartbreaker. Two teenagers, 14-year-old girls on the threshold of attending high school, were detasseling corn on a farm in northwestern Illinois when they were electrocuted after coming into contact with an irrigator.
Detasseling is practically a rite of passage where corn is grown. I spent a summer detasseling, as did most of my friends. It’s not for everyone—the days are long, hot, and tiring, and the pay isn’t very good. The upside is that it isn’t all that dangerous. When a parent sees a child off in the morning, he expects that child will return that afternoon.
Detasseling isn’t necessary, but it does benefit both farmers and consumers. Farmers often plant two varieties of corn and hire workers to remove the tassels from all the corn plants of one variety. Those plants then get pollinated by the other variety, resulting in a hybrid that has the most favorable traits, including higher yields. Detasseling often is a manual operation; sunburn and dehydration are about the worst work-related risks.
That said, anyone who works outdoors near machines and heavy equipment runs a higher risk of a fatality at work than people who don’t work in such environments. Healthy People 2020, a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services initiative, provides fatality data for a handful of occupations.
- Agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting: 27.0 deaths per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers
- Mining: 21.4 deaths per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers
- Transportation and warehousing: 16.5 deaths per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers
- Construction: 10.8 deaths per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers
The data doesn’t include manufacturing, so I looked up the number of fatalities in manufacturing for the same year (400 fatalities in 2007). Manufacturing had 13.88 million workers in 2007, so that works out to 2.88 fatalities per 100,000 workers. Based on this data, manufacturing is actually safer than the average job. According to Healthy People 2020, the number of fatalities per 100,000 workers for all industry was 4.0 in 2007.
Having said that, this is as good a time as any to mention worker safety. I can’t say it any better than Kent Horn, founder of Horn Machine Tools, who put together a safety video that illustrates the forces you’re dealing with every time you bend a length of tube or pipe.
If you think your company is due for a safety review but you don’t know where to start, you might want to consider a membership in FMA or TPA. Both offer access to Safety.BLR, which has industrial safety training resources, assessment and inspection checklists, and much more.
The risk of a fatality in manufacturing is low, but some extra attention on safety might prevent an injury, so it’s well worth the time.