Science - November 4, 2004

Farmers who smoke have more accidents

Three quarters of the sick leave among farmers is due to illness caused by work. There are big differences however, between the different agricultural branches, according to PhD researcher Esther Hartman. She also discovered that farmers who smoke are more likely to have a work-related accident than non-smokers.

The picture fits the image we have of farmers: they are not quick to complain or visit the doctor. Once they do go, things have often already gone too far and then they are off work for a long time. For the average Dutchman a third of the complaints are of a psychological nature, but among farmers this figure is only eight percent. These are some of the results from Hartman’s PhD research. Of the twenty-three thousand farmers who have an insurance policy with the company Interpolis, she examined the claims submitted and interviewed those who had submitted them.

Interpolis classifies all farmers as doing ‘heavy work’, but according to Hartman’s research there are differences between the sectors. Dairy farmers and pig farmers have a higher risk of work accidents, especially through contact with animals. Although livestock keepers know that a kick from a cow or a pig treading on your toes is not nice, most are fairly nonchalant about the risks. Mushroom growers have more neck or shoulder problems, while arable farmers have the healthiest work.

What also emerges from Hartman’s work is that smoking and overweight are important factors in determining whether a farmer is likely to develop back problems. According to Hartman this is because coughing and overweight increase the pressure on the spinal cord. Farmers who smoke are also more likely to have an accident. Hartman’s explanation is that farmers who smoke are less fit and more quickly distracted from their work, which increases the chance of an accident.

Another interesting fact is that only sixty percent of farmers are insured. The rest put money aside themselves for calamities or arrange their own replacements if they are sick. Hartman predicts that more farmers will insure themselves in the future when the compulsory national insurance for the self-employed (WAZ) disappears as a result of budget cuts. Hartman thinks insurers would be wise to start thinking about prevention to reduce the costs of absenteeism due to illness. / JT

Esther Hartman receives her PhD on Friday 5 November for her thesis Risk analysis of sick leave among Dutch farmers. Her promotors are Professor Jos Metz and Professor Ruud Huirne of the Farm Management group, and co-promotor Dr Huub Oude Vrielink of Agrotechnology & Food Innovations.

Re:act