CS-CASH Hopes To Make Farming, Ranching Safer

Nebraska Notebook

Risto Rautiainen stresses the need for more health and safety information.

Published on: May 14, 2013

We recently started planning for the health screening services at the 2013 Husker Harvest Days show this fall in Grand Island. About 30 health and safety professionals sponsor booths in the Nebraska Farmer Hospitality Tent that are a popular stop for show visitors each year.

In a way, those crowds taking part in the health screenings each year at HHD sort of belie the sometimes indifferent attitude about health and safety issues around the farm or ranch. The phrase "agricultural health and safety" doesn't always resonate with producers during the busy, stress-filled times on the farm or ranch. Perhaps it's the notion that something bad can happen to someone else, but not me.

Risto Rautiainen stresses the need for more health and safety information.
Risto Rautiainen stresses the need for more health and safety information.

Unfortunately, the term agriculture health and safety does hit home for families who've experienced tragedies due to accidents or who have had loved ones afflicted with an on-farm-related illness.

There are so many private groups and associations, as well as publicly funded programs, involved in ag safety and health that it's hard to wade through them all. More collaboration is needed among them, I believe. But many programs, like Nebraska AgrAbility and Farm Safety 4 Just Kids, do a great service.

University Extension safety programs addressing safety on the farm have gone by the wayside in many cases through the years as funding dried up. Funds have been eliminated to the point that even collection of data of farm fatalities and injuries is hampered. UNL Extension does help support AgrAbility and conducts farm safety programs for youth, but it like many other land-grant universities has not had a full-time safety specialist on staff for some time now.

It should be pointed out that over the past 40 to 50 years farm-related fatalities have dropped, thanks to better technology like roll-over protection, power shaft shields and better awareness. Unfortunately ag-related injuries haven't gone down.

So your occupation remains the most hazardous in the country. There are on average about 60 industry-related deaths in Nebraska each year and one-third of them occurs in agriculture.

I bring this up because I sit on an advisory board for a year-old, but not so well known research project based at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. The Central States Center for Agricultural Health and Safety has some very interesting survey and research projects underway, some that involve unique approaches to rural health care and others that involve farmer participation.

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Risto Rautiainen is director of CS-CASH and leads a team of more than a dozen scientists and medical professional in the project.

CS-CASH covers Nebraska and six other states—Kansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota and South Dakota. Researchers will conduct studies thanks to a grant from the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety.

Research over the next few years focuses on respiratory diseases, hearing loss, sleep deprivation and dust exposure in confinement swine operations and grain bins. Each is a valid research focus, according to Rautiainen.

Exposure to noise, dust and pollutants on the farm is considered part of the business of farming, but the long-term effects too often are overlooked.

Getting a better handle on the number and causes of ag-related injuries and fatalities is needed, so CS-CASH is using a variety of sources, including surveys, to aid in describing the number of injuries, injury rates and to identify the highest risk factors.

Another goal of this large research project is to increase dissemination of its efforts and eventual results, using farm shows, safety meetings, and a variety of media outlets, including social media.

It is worth your time to find out more about this major research project. For more information, visit www.unmc.edu/publichealth/cscash.