Occupational Health Problems of the Rural Work Force

  • Donham, Kelley J.;
  • Mutel, Cornelia F.


Certain rural occupations affect the health of employees in a distinctive manner. Agricultural workers and other persons who work in the farm environment or with raw farm products (such as farm family members and employees of agricultural support businesses) are exposed to threats from farm machinery, excessive sunlight and heat, particulates and vapors that may be irritating, toxic, or allergenic, farm structures (including silos and animal confinement buildings) with abnormal air constituents, livestock, and pesticides. Resulting health problems include accidents, heat stress, neurovascular degeneration of the hands resulting from vibration, hearing loss, numerous respiratory problems (such as asthma, farmer's lung, silo filler's disease, and asphyxiation), infectious diseases transmitted from animals, a variety of skin problems (including irritation, sensitization, and infection), certain cancers, and pesticide poisonings and injuries.

Loggers are exposed to the hazards of working with large, heavy objects and noisy, dangerous machinery in an outdoor environment. Major health problems include numerous accidents, hearing loss, and vibrational injury. Other health concerns include exposure to toxic chemicals, cancer, infectious diseases transmitted from the woods environment, and plant-induced skin and respiratory systems reactions.

Underground miners also suffer high accident rates resulting from falling rock, electrical hazards, and mining machinery. Dust hazards have been substantially reduced by wet drilling, but a number of generalized respiratory responses to dusts and reactions to specific mined materials (such as asbestos, mercury, and uranium) still threaten miners. Gases and vapors may pose direct problems because of their toxicity or, secondarily, may cause fires and explosions. Other health concerns include noise, heat, and carcinogenic substances.

Rural physicians may be the de facto occupational health physicians for these rural employees, as well as for employees of the growing number of rural industries. This is but one of the challenging roles available to the rural physician who remains open to the health care needs of the total community. The demands and rewards of such an extended role are described in the next and last chapter.


SOURCE: Mutel, Cornelia F.; Donham, Kelley J. Medical practice in rural communities. New York, New York: Springer-Verlag; 1983: 77-115. ISBN: 0-387-91224.


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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