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Workers in production agriculture, forestry/logging, and commercial fishing/aquaculture provide abundant food and fiber for the American people and for much of the world as well. Yet these men, women, and youth experience rates of occupational injury, illness and death that are nearly 4 times higher than those of workers in other sectors. In cooperation with the Centers for Disease Control / National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (CDC/NIOSH), the Southeast Center supports and conducts research, education, and prevention activities to prevent occupational illness and injury and improve the safety and health of agricultural workers and their families in the southeastern United States.
Congratulations to Dr. Mark Purschwitz upon being honored by the editors of the Journal of Agromedicine as their 2014 Peer Reviewer of the Year and to Dr. Deb Reed upon earning an Honorable Mention for her likewise outstanding contributions to the journal. These accolades are among several well-deserved honors for each of these key Southeast Center faculty members. Drs. Purschwitz and Reed have been honored in J Agromed. 2014 Jan-Mar.19(1):3-4.
The Southeast Center was established in 1991 as one of a select number of agricultural research centers funded by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (CDC/NIOSH). Dedicated to developing and promoting transdisciplinary approaches to the safety and health of agricultural workers and their families, the Center serves stakeholders in ten states: Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, West Virginia, and Virginia.
Recognizing the multiple linkages affecting public health (IOM, 2001) and the importance of strategic systems thinking when addressing challenges in public health, the Center’s investigators and staff work with colleagues from the UK Colleges of Medicine, Agriculture, Nursing, Education, Communications, and Engineering, as well as with researchers and practitioners from various external agencies and institutions. This transdisciplinary approach lends an array of resources and skills to the Center and enhances its capabilities in research, education, outreach, and prevention. Today, the Southeast Center continues to focus on -
Through the 5-year study Aquaculture Safety and Health, Melvin L. Myers, MPA, Associate Professor of Preventive Medicine and Environmental Health at the University of Kentucky and Dr. Robert Durborow of the Kentucky State University Aquaculture Research Center worked with farmers to identify and eliminate occupational hazards that previously were not recognized or were accepted as part of this important sector. Many of the innovative, cost-effective solutions identified through the project have been conceived and tested by farmers themselves, thus providing “proof of concept” to other farm owners and operators.
Led by Dr. Joan Mazur of the UK College of Education, the Economics of Preventing Injuries to Adolescent and Adult Farmers II, is using innovative narrative simulation exercises and computerized cost tools to educate participants about the direct and indirect costs of four types of injury events: (1) crush injuries to operators when tractors without rollover protective structures (ROPS) overturn, (2) collisions between farm tractors and other motor vehicles on public roadways, (3) traumatic brain injuries to horseback and ATV riders without helmets, and (4) hearing loss associated with exposure to loud noises and high frequencies. From 2006-2011, Dr. Mazur and her EOP I team developed and evaluated online versions of the simulations and cost tools within college courses for post-secondary students preparing for careers as high school social studies and vocational agriculture teachers and Extension agents. The EOP II continues to build on this success by expanding the benefits of Web-based digital learning and vividly demonstrating the cost-effectiveness of injury prevention. More details about the EOP project and other Center activities can be found under Core Projects.
The Southeast Center has developed a series of courses, seminars, and field practice experiences open to students in the MPH, DrPH, and PhD programs in the UK College of Public Health who are interested in public health issues involving agriculture and rural populations. Another core education/translation project is the Nurses Utilizing Research, Service, and Education in Applied Practice (NURSE-AP). Under the leadership of Dr. Deborah Reed in the UK College of Nursing, the project continues to cultivate nurse researchers and practitioners who are well equipped to identify and address diseases and injuries associated with production agriculture. Prospective graduate students are encouraged to read more about the Health of Agricultural Populations and NURSE AP project on these pages. Researchers, farm operators, and other visitors are also encouraged to explore the useful information and links available through this site.
In 2012 workers in production agriculture, forestry, commercial fishing (AFF) and hunting experienced an occupational fatality rate of 23.3 per 100,000 workers – a rate six times higher the overall industry rate of 3.5 per 100,000 workers and the highest of any occupational group (DOL, 2013). The average annual rate of agricultural fatalities is high in the Southeast, with Florida, Tennessee, and Kentucky reporting some of the largest annual numbers of fatal occupational injuries in agriculture, forestry, and fishing.
In addition to serving stakeholders in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Florida, the Southeast Center serves agricultural populations in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Virginia. In this 10-state region, AFF workers and their families face safety and health hazards that often differ from those experienced by their counterparts elsewhere. Topography, crops, machinery, livestock and weather patterns that are common to Wisconsin, Iowa, or California, for example, are not necessarily the same as those found in the Southeast. Exposure patterns and their sequelae differ based on regional landscape, heat, humidity, product(s), and transport variables.
The differences are not only environmental and agricultural, but often socioeconomic as well: The strong sense of cultural pride and community self-sufficiency found in many regions of the Southeast poses a potential barrier when prevention programs designed by “outsiders” are implemented without respect for, and adaptation to, the cultural and historical aspects of farming in the South. Program implementation is often difficult because of the diffuse, small-scale nature of the region’s agricultural base: owners and operators in the Southeast tend to be small-acreage family farmers, who often maintain off-farm employment as well.
Additional factors set apart the Southeast from much of the nation: According to the USDA Economic Research Service (ERS), the rural South has the highest and most persistent poverty rates in the nation, with counties defined as being “persistently poor” if 20 percent or more of their populations were poor over the past 30 years, as measured by the 1970, 1980, 1990, and 2000 decennial censuses. USDA-ERS notes that the non-metro South, with over 40 percent of the U.S. non-metro population, has the greatest prevalence of both poverty and persistent poverty.
The Southeast Center covers a region that is both historically and culturally fascinating and fraught with public health challenges and needs. These characteristics create an array of meaningful opportunities for research and service.
Joliffe, Dean. USDA ERS. Rural poverty at a glance. Rural Resource and Development Report (RRDR-100). 2004 Jul. Accessed online at http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/rdrr100/ [2010 Oct 18].
Mansfield CJ, Wilson JL, Kobrinski EJ, Mitchell J. Premature mortality in the United States: The roles of geographic area, socioeconomic status, household type, and availability of medical care. Am J Public Health.1999 Jun;89(6):893-8.
Safran ES, Cohen LP, Caplan LS, Ohuabunwa UK, Pharagood-Wade F. Barriers to occupational and environmental medicine services in the southeastern United States. J Occup Environ Med. 2005 Mar;47(3):219-25.
United States Bureau of the Census. Historical Poverty Tables. Table 9. Poverty of people, by region: 1959 to 2005. Available online at http:// www.census.gov/hhes/www/poverty/histpov/hstpov9.html [accessed September 13, 2006]
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. NIOSH. Worker Health Chartbook, 2004. Available online at http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2004-146/ [accessed 2011 April 4].
United States Department of Labor. Bureau of Labor Statistics. National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries in 2012. Preliminary results. 2013 Aug 22. Accessed online at www.bls.gov/iif/oshcfoi1.htm (2014 Feb 14).
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) funded agricultural centers:
- Central States Center for Agricultural Safety and Health
- Great Plains Center for Agricultural Health
- High Plains Intermountain Center for Agricultural Health and Safety (HICAHS)
- National Children's Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety
- Northeast Center for Agricultural and Occupational Health
- Pacific Northwest Agricultural Safety and Health Center (Washington)
- Southwest Center for Agricultural Health, Injury Prevention, and Education
- Upper Midwest Agricultural Safety and Health Center (UMASH)
- Western Center for Agricultural Health and Safety (UC-Davis)