Occupational Health of Agricultural Workers in California

  • Kleinman, Goldy D.


As used in this report, agriculture includes crop and livestock farming, and such services as cotton ginning, spraying, hatcheries and other horticultural and husbandry services.

Data on occupational injuries and disease are derived from the experience of those workers covered by the California Workman's Compensation Act; this includes all wage and salary workers in agriculture, 70 percent of California's 331,000 agricultural workers. Excluded are self-employed farmers and unpaid family labor.

Agricultural workers have the third highest rate of disabling work injuries, 68.7 per 1,000 workers, exceeded by construction workers with 81.9 disabling work injuries per 1,000 workers and mineral extraction workers with a rate of 70.2.

In 1963, there were 16,747 reports of disabling work injuries in California; ladders were implicated in 8 percent of the cases; tractors in 6 percent; "ground" in 6 percent; and boxes in 6 percent.

Agricultural workers have the highest rate of disabling and nondisabling occupational disease in California, 12.4 reports per 1, 000 workers in 1963; followed by construction, 5.8; and manufacturing, 4.6.

The majority of the 2,982 reports of disabling and nondisabling occupational disease in agriculture was for skin conditions, 76 percent; followed by systemic poisoning, 10 percent; respiratory conditions due to noxious agents, 3 percent; and infectious and parasitic disease, 3 percent.

Agricultural workers appear to have more severe cases of occupational disease than do workers in general. Among the 2,982 agricultural workers with reported occupational disease in 1963, the estimated period of disability for regular work was 40 percent as compared with 27 percent for all workers (18,060) with occupational disease.

Over half the 2,982 workers with reported occupational disease had Spanish surnames; of these 1,644 workers with Spanish surnames, 36 percent were foreign nationals, mainly from Mexico.

The Division of Industrial Safety in the California Department of Industrial Relations is charges with the responsibility for safe working conditions in places of employment. In November 1961, the Division of Industrial Safety put into effect the first safety orders for agricultural operations.

The staff of the Bureau of Occupational Health in the California Department of Public Health is concerned with the prevention and control of occupational disease at places of work and with the correction of disease producing working conditions, when the solution requires special study and investigation. Medical, nursing and engineering staff have cooperated in studies on farms and in studies of agricultural services. Several studies are discussed in the section on Occupational Disease, Prevention and Control.

In the nine-year period, 1955-1963, there have been 15 deaths attributed to sunstroke among agricultural workers; 5 due to infectious disease; and 28 due to toxic materials.

The special characteristics of agriculture and agricultural workers and the problems involved in establishing occupational disease control and safe working conditions are discussed in the section Comments.


SOURCE: State of California, Department of Public Health, Bureau of Occupational Health; 1965. 34.


This document was extracted from the CDC-NIOSH Epidemiology of Farm Related Injuries: Bibliography With Abstracts, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Centers for Disease Control, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

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