Toward a Model of Farm Family Stress and Injury

  • Kidd, Pamela;
  • Scharf, Ted;
  • Veazie, Mark A.

This presentation reports the results of a continuing collaboration between researchers at the College of Nursing, University of Kentucky, the Division of Safety Research, NIOSH, and the Division of Biomedical and Behavioral Science, NIOSH. A working model of farm family stress and injury is proposed and discussed. In addition, researchers in the Department of Preventive Medicine, Ohio State University (C.A. Heaney and M. Elliott) are developing portions of the model into a structured instrument to systematically examine work environment stressors and acute stress reactions in family farming.

The working model of farm family stress and injury is a direct outgrowth of the literature(s) on occupational stress, safety, and injury, combined with a qualitative analysis of nine farmer focus group interviews conducted in Kentucky. Basic concepts in the model include: 1) the physical and organizational work environment, 2) safety demand features of the work environment, 3) assessments or judgments regarding the work environment by farmers, 4) decision making, 5) acute stress reactions - both physiological and psychological, 6) chronic strain, 7) safety performance, i.e., worker behavior related to safety, 8) safety margin or outcome, including the possibility of an incident or injury, and 9) individual factors, including skill.

The concepts and paths in the model are examined cross-sectionally and longitudinally. Paths in the model illustrate hypothesized relationships across the concepts. Principal hypotheses in the model suggest:

  1. when farmers are fatigued, they may fail to adjust adequately to a changing work environment (e.g., increased safety demand), and their safety performance may not accommodate the more hazardous conditions; and
  2. major financial, workload, and work (and safety) environment planning decisions (e.g., commodity decisions, size of operation, purchases, etc.) have a significant impact on the day-to-day job demands of farm work. These impacts may create or exacerbate mental overload and other stressful work experiences, as well as other risk factors for chronic strain and injury.

By connecting immediate experiences of farm stress and injury to major precursors (i.e., presumed causal variables) in the farm work environment, it is possible to shift the focus of prevention activities in agricultural safety and health toward creating and maintaining a less stressful and safer work environment. This perspective broadens the dimensions of primary prevention in interventions in farm safety and health.

This research abstract was extracted from a portion of the proceedings of "Agricultural Safety and Health: Detection, Prevention and Intervention," a conference presented by the Ohio State University and the Ohio Department of Health, sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control/National

NIOSH, Cincinnati, OH; NIOSH, Morgantown, WV; and University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY respectively.

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