A independent review has awarded a government program focused on safety in agriculture, forestry and fishing (AgFF) high marks for relevance and impact on worker safety and health. The latest review is a follow up to a 2008 National Acadamies of Science review, though it was not completed by NAS.
The AgFF program, facilitated by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, consists of nine regional Centers for Agricultural Disease and Injury Research, Education, and Prevention and one national center to address children's farm safety and health.
Agriculture, forestry and fishing occupations carry the highest fatality rate of all occupations – eight times higher than all other U.S. industries combined and twice as great as mining or transportation.
In 2011, 557 workers died and tens of thousands were injured while doing farm, forestry or fishing work at a cost of $4 billion in direct and indirect costs.
NIOSH's AgFF program is in place to reduce those work-related injuries and fatalities. Paul Gunderson, Ph.D., director of the Dakota Precision Agriculture Center and lead reviewer of the program, says it is the most significant federal initiative today to seek a safe workplace for those in the ag industry.
Additionally, the review panel found that work is conducted at relatively minimal cost. In 2012, nearly $22 million was distributed among the regional centers. The AgFF Program has seen an overall reduction in injuries and deaths in agriculture, forestry and fishing since its inception in 1990 – deaths have decreased 40%, from 931 in 1992 to 557 in 2011.
"In our current environment of budget austerity, this is an example of a relatively low-cost program that is making a significant impact on public safety and at the same time saving farmers, insurers and government considerable costs related to injury and damage,' says John May, M.D., director of the Northeast Center for Agricultural Health.
Improving data suggests programs are effective
The review panel found AgFF outreach and other programs have contributed to important changes:
Research conducted and interventions implemented by the National Center for Children's Farm Safety and Health, an AgFF Center, as well as other private and public organizations resulted in a 59% decrease in the rate of childhood agricultural injuries between 1998 and 2008.
AgFF research has shown that the use of tractor rollbar protective structures and seatbelts can prevent 99% of overturn deaths. Its New York program has increased the installation of ROPS by 10-fold and recorded more than 100 overturns and accidents with no injuries among farmers.
The Commercial Fishing Safety Research & Design Program developed the award-winning E-stop for hydraulic machinery, equipment that previously caused severe injuries and fatalities on fishing vessels.
OSHA doesn't cover every workplace
"There is no other program of its kind; this is the organization that protects forestry workers, fishermen and farmers, the people who produce food for all of us," Gunderson says. "Eighty-five percent of agricultural worksites are exempt from workplace safety standards of the Occupational Safety and Health Act; they are excluded from the National Labor Relations Act. Even today, federal agencies are absolutely prohibited from collecting information about non-fatal workplace injuries and illnesses on the vast majority of agricultural worksites."
The review committee was comprised of experts from industry, government, labor, academia, medicine, and public health. The assessment was led by Dr. Paul D. Gunderson. The period covered by the review was 2007 through May 2012.
The NIOSH AgFF Centers are located in Davis, Calif,; Fort Collins, Colo.; Iowa City, Iowa; San Antonio, Texas; Lexington, Ky.; Cooperstown, N.Y.; Minneapolis, Minn.; Marshfield, Wis.; Omaha, Neb.; and Seattle, Wash.
For more information about the NIOSH AgFF centers and programs, visit www.cdc.gov/niosh/programs/agff/.
Editors note: This story first reported that the National Academies of Science completed the 2012 independent review of the AgFF program. It has been amended to clarify that the latest review is a follow up to a 2008 NAS review. Some of the same panelists that participated in the 2008 review also participated in the 2012 review, though the 2012 review was not conducted by NAS.