As the US Congress undertakes deliberations on the FY 2015 federal budget, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is faced with threats of reduced funding or elimination, for the third year in a row.  NIOSH is the primary US agency responsible for conducting research and making recommendations for the prevention of work-related illnesses, injuries and fatalities.

Ten regional Agricultural Safety and Health Centers and related programs serving all 50 states utilize a small portion of the $332.86 million FY 2014 NIOSH budget to undertake research, education, and information dissemination about agricultural safety and health.  The Centers were established as part of a Center for Disease Control and Prevention/NIOSH Agricultural Health and Safety Initiative in 1990.

Farmers, ranchers, agricultural workers–indeed, anyone with concerns about health and safety issues in agriculture, fishing and forestry–may contact any of the ten regional Centers, which are available by conducting an online search of the name of a Center as listed below:

  • High Plains Intermountain Center for Agricultural Health and Safety at Colorado State University
  • National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety at Marshfield, Wisconsin
  • New York Center for Agricultural Medicine and Health (Northeast Center) at Cooperstown, New York
  • Western Center for Agricultural Health and Safety at the University of California, Davis
  • Great Plains Center for Agricultural Health at the University of Iowa
  • Southeast Center for Agricultural Health and Injury Prevention at the University of Kentucky
  • Upper Midwest Agricultural Safety and Health Center at the University of Minnesota
  • Central States Center for Agricultural Safety and Health at the University of Nebraska Medical
    Center
  • Southwest Center for Agricultural Health, Injury Prevention and Education at the University of Texas, Tyler
  • Pacific Northwest Agricultural Safety and Health Center at the University of Washington

The Centers work with individual producers as well as organizations, businesses, manufacturers and groups involved in the agriculture industry.  While they have produced a lot of “bang for the buck,” their continuation is uncertain.

NIOSH funds are mainly responsible for the development of agricultural medicine training for physicians, nurses, and persons in many related occupations in ten locales.  The training helps healthcare providers and educators know how to manage the unique health issues of persons involved in agriculture, such as nicotine poisoning among people working in tobacco fields, respiratory health concerns due to agricultural dust and hearing loss due to agricultural noise. 

The combined efforts of the Agricultural Safety and Health Centers with the agriculture industry as a whole have contributed to significant reductions of work-related perils, such as far fewer deaths due to tractor rollovers and half as many injuries and fatalities to children working on the farm as two decades ago.  More is now known about how antibiotics in animal feedstuffs affect human consumers, among the many health issues which are now better understood.

Many more agriculture issues need solutions, such as clearer knowledge about the health and environmental effects of long term use of glyphosate, how certain pesticides influence the rates of cancer, Parkinson’s disease and other maladies of the people who contact these substances and how to certify farms as safe places to work, among many other issues.  

All the Centers offer pilot grants up to $20,000 on a competitive basis for emerging issues research and demonstration projects that are proposed by individuals or groups who want to examine a particular issue or disseminate information that improves the health and safety of the agricultural population and environment.

The Centers are seeking to fund innovative projects that examine new issues or apply scientific findings to the agriculture industry.  Among recently funded projects are teaching life-saving ways to extract persons trapped in grain bins, development of webinars to cope with farm stress, reducing the spread of methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus by workers in livestock operations and developing standards for the safe use of all-terrain vehicles like 4-wheelers, to name but a few.

The upcoming conference of the International Society for Agricultural Safety and Health (ISASH) will be held in Omaha on June 22-26 this year.  The Central States Center at the University of Nebraska Medical Center is hosting the conference. 

This annual event dates back to 1942 when the first Farm and Home Safety Conference was sponsored by the National Safety Council.  The National Institute for Farm Safety emerged as its own organization in 1962 and fairly recently became ISASH. 

The ISASH conference is open to anyone.  Information about the conference is available on their website: www.ISASH.org, as well as the Central States Center for Agricultural Safety and Health website: www.unmc.edu/publichealth/cscash

Federal funding for agricultural safety and health through NIOSH for the upcoming year likely will be decided this summer.  Persons can register their opinions about whether this money is well spent by contacting their elected officials, all of whom have websites and invite input from constituents.

Dr. Rosmann is a clinical psychologist, adjunct professor and farmer who lives at Harlan, Iowa.  To contact him, see the website: www.agbehavioralhealth.com