National Institute for
Occupational Safety and Health
Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing Centers

History and Mission

  • Established by Congress in 1990 (P.L. 101-517) in response to evidence that agricultural workers were suffering higher rates of occupational injury and illness than other U.S. workers, even those in other extractive industries.
  • P.L. 101-517 directed NIOSH to select and fund agricultural occupational safety and health centers at qualified universities to conduct applied research, develop model prevention programs, and serve as a national resource for other government agencies, agricultural extension programs, health care professionals, et al. (NAS 2008)
  • Today the NIOSH Agriculture, Forestry, and Fishing (AFF) Initiative includes nine regional Centers for Agricultural Disease and Injury Research, Education, and Prevention and one national center to address children’s farm safety and health. 
  • The AFF program is the only substantive federal effort to meet the obligation to ensure safe working conditions for workers in one of our nation’s largest and most vital production sectors.

While agriculture, forestry, and fishing constitute one of the largest industry sectors in the U.S. (DOL 2011), most AFF operations are themselves small: nearly 78 percent employ fewer than 10 workers, and most rely on family members and/or immigrant, part-time, contract and seasonal labor. Thus, many AFF workers are excluded from labor protections, including many of those enforced by OSHA.

In 2010 the AFF sector had a work-related fatality rate of 26.8 per 100,000 workers. More than 1 in 10 AFF workers incur nonfatal injuries resulting in lost work days each year. These reported figures do not even include men, women, and youths on farms with fewer than 11 full-time employees.  In addition to the harm to individual men, women, and families, these deaths and injuries inflict serious economic losses including medical costs and lost capital, productivity, and earnings.

The burden of agricultural occupational injuries in the United States has been estimated to exceed $4 billion in direct and indirect costs (range $4.5 to $13.9 billion). In contrast, the NIOSH AFF program helps to keep Americans working and shows that every dollar invested in prevention more than pays for itself.

The life-saving, cost-effective work of the NIOSH AFF program is not replicated by any other agency:

  • State and federal OSHA personnel rely on NIOSH research in the development of evidence-based standards for protecting workers and would not be able to fulfill their mission without NIOSH. 
  • While committed to the well-being of farmers, USDA has little expertise in the medical or public health sciences.  USDA no longer funds, as it did historically, land grant university-based farm safety specialists.
  • Staff members of USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture interact with NIOSH occupational safety and health research experts to keep abreast of cutting-edge research and new directions in this area.

    Saving Lives ... Saving Jobs ... Saving Money

    Preventing the # 1 cause of traumatic injury deaths on farms:  AFF research has shown that the use of rollover protective structures (ROPS or rollbars) and seatbelts on tractors can prevent 98% of overturn-related deaths.  A New York program has increased the installation of ROPS by 10-fold and recorded 63 close calls with no injuries among farmers who had installed ROPS. 

    Protecting children:  More than 1 million youths under age 20 live on farms and ranches. More than half perform farm work or chores. Center-developed guidelines for parents to match chores with a child’s developmental and physical capabilities have helped to reduce injuries and deaths among children who live and work on farms and ranches:  Between 1998 and 2008, the rate of childhood agricultural injuries per 1,000 farms dropped by 59 percent.

    Reducing Pesticide Exposures:  Working in partnership with producers and farm owners, the NIOSH AFF Centers have developed evidence-based solutions for reducing exposure to pesticides and other farm chemicals among farmers, farm workers and their children. Since the Centers’ inception, there have been major advances in pesticide science, with Center researchers duly recognized as experts in their field and often called upon to provide objective, reliable data and serve on regional and national advisory committees.   

    Commercial Fishing had a reported annual fatality rate 58 times higher than the rate for all U.S. workers in 2009.  Research has shown that knowledge of maritime navigation rules and emergency preparedness means survival. An interactive navigation training CD has been produced in three languages, effectiveness of refresher survival drill instruction has been demonstrated, and US Coast Guard regulations have been changed to require commercial fishing vessel captains to complete navigation training. This work has been accomplished efficiently and in collaboration with the Department of Homeland Security through the US Coast Guard.

    Collaborative, on-farm efforts: Centers have worked with dairy producers and industry associations in the Great Plains, Southwest and Western U.S. to develop bilingual safety training and management tools, provide workshops on safety as sound business practice, and lead safety audits to help producers incorporate safety and health protocols into daily practice. California researchers used on-farm testing to demonstrate that 5-minute rest breaks every hour reduce musculoskeletal symptoms among migrant farm workers. In Washington State, investigators have partnered with the WA Tree Fruit Research Commission and manufacturers to design safety into new technologies to increase productivity and maintain a healthy workforce.  In Maine, on-farm research led to improved design of a blueberry rake that increased productivity while reducing musculoskeletal problems.  The rake has been adopted by 73% of workers.

    Agromedicine:  The Centers have partnered with producers, employers, the federal migrant health program, physicians, nurses, and Internet Technology specialists to bring 21st Century teaching and tools to rural health care.

    Safety for Forest Workers: In 2010, the logging industry had a reported fatality rate of 91.9 deaths per 100,000 workers (preliminary data), a rate more than 25 times higher than that of all US workers.  NIOSH AFF Centers including the Southeast and the Northwest are uniquely positioned to ensure the safety of our nation’s 86,000 workers in forestry & logging.  Loss of funding would leave these at-risk workers without the Centers’ support.

    Learn more about the AFF Centers: