FARM SAFETY STUDY

BY CHARLYN FARGO

It’s no surprise to farmers that agriculture has the highest rate of occupational death across all U.S. industries. Farmers now that they face danger every day. The numbers put 22 fatalities per 100,000 workers, ranking agriculture ahead of transportation, mining and construction.

That’s a big concern, and my former University of Illinois Agricultural Communications professor, Dr. James Evans, decided to do something about those statistics. He and Scott Heiberger, communications specialist at the National Farm Medicine Center (and U of I alumnus) worked together on an original research article, “Fitting Farm Safety into Risk Communications Teaching, Research and Practice.” It was published in the latest issue of the Journal of Applied Communications.

Their study examined the potentials for improving the engagement of the agricultural media, which serve as farmers’ primary channels for farm safety information. It focused on potentials for strengthening skills in farm safety communications through teaching programs in agricultural journalism and communications.

To gather data for the study, Evans and Heiberger conducted an online survey of faculty representatives in 23 agricultural communications programs at universities throughout the nation. They found an encouraging potential for integrating farm safety into ag communications courses. Those who responded offered positive views about the importance of occupational safety in farming identified special skills needed for communicating about farm safety and showed interest in gaining access to related teaching resources. They also expressed concern about how effectively safety is communicated with farmers, farm families, farm workers and others in agriculture. Respondents also expressed interest in teaching resources about farm safety communications involving topics represented in all three functional areas of risk communications – care, consensus and crisis/risk.

As an Ag Comm major from the U of I, this makes sense. The more awareness there is about farm safety, the more likely it is to help prevent future accidents. Teaching farm safety as part of agricultural communications courses, just like conservation, farming techniques and environmental concerns is good education.

The research project was funded by a pilot project grant from the Upper Midwest Agricultural Safety and Health Center, based at the University of Minnesota.

Evans and Heiberger have a second research piece, titled “Agricultural Media Coverage of Farm Safety: Review of the Literature,” which will appear in this month’s issue of the Journal of Agromedicine. There will be four publications in all.

The research was conducted jointly by the Communications Program, National Farm Medicine Center of the Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation in Marshfield, Wis., and the Agricultural Communications Documentation Center of the U of I.

To all my farming friends, be safe, even in the winter months.

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