The "Invisible Worker": Identifying the Safety Needs...

  • Bean, Thomas;
  • Isaacs, Linda;
  • Jones, S. E.

Agriculture is consistently listed as one of the three most dangerous occupations in the nation. Although agricultural workers account for less than 3 percent of the work force, they account for 14 percent of work-related deaths (NSC, 1993). Farmworkers suffer the highest work-related injury, morbidity and mortality rates in the nation. The U.S agricultural migrant worker is exposed to numerous hazards due to the wide range of tasks performed while planting, harvesting and packaging a variety of crops. Some examples of migrant occupational injury and illness are: traumatic injury by tractor or vehicle accidents; amputations and lacerations from entanglement in machinery; dermatitis from exposure to plants and pesticides; fractures resulting from falls from ladders or equipment; pesticide poisoning; eye injuries; parasitic infections and infectious hepatitis; and heatstroke, hypothermia or frostbite (Murphy, 1992). Agricultural injury and illness surveillance data are sorely lacking in Ohio, especially for the migrant farmworker population. An estimated 10,000 migrants travel to Ohio each year to harvest crops such as pickle cucumbers, tomatoes, apples and nursery products. Without this necessary seasonal labor, growers would not be able to maintain their high rate of production.

This statewide needs assessment provides baseline data on how and why migrant farm laborers are at high-risk of injury and illness in Ohio. The project consists of two phases: an employee interview and an employer questionnaire. Targeting the migrant population, the face-to-face employee interview consisted of a series of close-ended questions in Spanish. Approximately 100 interviews were conducted at migrant health clinics, labor camps and the Migrant Rest Center in Fremont, Ohio. Additionally , a written version, in both Spanish and English, was administered to approximately 150 migrants. The questions addressed the demographics of the migrant population in Ohio, as well as issues such as incidence of injury and illness on the job, prevalence of safety training received and availability of sanitation facilities on the worksite. In the second phase of the project, 250 questionnaires were mailed to a random sample of growers who employ migrants in Ohio. The questions were primarily concerned with implementation of a formal safety program, specific safety and health training for employees, and possible barriers to employee management communication related to safety. A statistical analysis of the data will be presented, as will results and conclusions concerning the state of health and safety for migrant employees in Ohio. The results and conclusions of this study will be used as the basis for the future funding and development of educational materials related to safety and health issues.

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 Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

S.E. Jones, L.K. Isaacs and T.L. Bean, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH.

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