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Release: Immediate

I-CASH Certified Safe Farms program moving ahead

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- A University of Iowa pilot program that could lead to insurance discounts or other types of financial rewards for farm families is close to being implemented in northwest Iowa, according to UI agricultural health and safety experts who initiated the project.

The Certified Safe Farm (CSF) Program is a voluntary, preventive approach to rural health and safety. It is aimed at reducing injuries and illnesses among farm families while reducing participants' medical and insurance claim costs. Developed by farm safety experts at Iowa's Center for Agricultural Safety and Health (I-CASH) and the University of Nebraska Medical Center, the program has three main components: health screenings that identify high risk conditions for farm families; on-farm safety reviews that identify and correct farm safety hazards; and an educational exercise on farm safety for participating families. If the pilot project is successful, families whose farms are certified as safe could become eligible for health insurance discounts.

"The goal of the program is to ensure that farm families stay healthy and reduce their risks of injuries through preventive screenings, removal of safety hazards and farm safety education," says Kendall Thu, associate director of I-CASH. "We need a program that is effective and takes into account the time and financial constraints placed on farmers."

Data from the National Safety Council shows that agricultural workers have the second highest fatality rate and the third highest disabling injury rate out of all occupations in the United States. In Iowa alone, these problems cost the state an estimated $100 million a year. "The costs are manifested in insurance claims," Thu says.

A claims analysis conducted by Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Nebraska for the CSF Program indicated that the rate of health services for injuries among people in rural areas was much higher than other groups. In addition, hospital admission rates for respiratory diseases were higher among rural residents.

Program leaders held a series of farmer focus groups across Iowa and Nebraska last fall and winter to get farmers' input on the CSF concept. The general response from farm families was positive, Thu says. "Farmers gave us a number of ideas on how best to build such a program. We know the program has to be voluntary and community-based with trained, local service providers who have farm backgrounds."

Thu says 125 farm families in northwest Iowa will be randomly selected and asked to take part in a two-year pilot project, beginning in December. Program officials also will track an additional 125 farm families not participating in the program to compare and gauge the effectiveness of the CSF initiative. Both groups of participants will be reimbursed for participating, and many will receive a free preventive health screening, an on-farm safety review and free educational materials. In addition to the free services, those who successfully complete the program and whose farms are certified as safe will receive a check for approximately $200 each year of the pilot project.

Financial support for the CSF Program has come from Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc., the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the National Pork Producers Council, the Iowa Pork Producers and the Iowa Agricultural Development Authority within the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.