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Release: Immediate

UI study looks at work-related injuries among Iowa farmers

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Ten percent of nearly 400 Iowa farmers surveyed during a farm family health study in 1994 reported having been injured in the previous year while doing farm work, according to a published report by researchers at the University of Iowa College of Medicine.

The survey, part of the Iowa Farm Family Health and Hazard Surveillance Project, was conducted at the UI's Injury Prevention Research Center. The study aimed to determine the health and injury status of Iowa's farm families. Since farming is one of the most hazardous occupations, the researchers were interested in determining what risk factors were associated with farming-related injuries.

Forty (10.3 percent) of the farmers reported being injured in the previous 12 months. Overexertion and strenuous movement was cited as the leading type of injury; in fact, back injuries made up more than half of the reported injuries. Cuts and lacerations were the second leading type of injury, followed by broken bones and fractures.

The study was published in last month's issue of the American Journal of Industrial Medicine.

"This study is one of the few that have been done based on a representative sample of farming populations from an entire state," says Mary Lewis, UI research assistant and the article's lead author. "Our goal was to assess the types of injuries and risk factors associated with farm-related work, which is an important step in developing prevention methods."

The researchers found that most of the reported injuries occurred during work with livestock, work involving farm equipment or during routine chores.

Younger farmers (those born after 1940) were more than three times likely to be injured on the job, according to the study. Other identified risk factors associated with injuries included having an impairment or health problem that limits the type or amount of work that can be done, and having gotten acids or alkalis on the skin.

The study participants represented 18 Iowa counties, two counties from each of the state's nine crop and livestock reporting regions. Working with the Iowa Agricultural Statistics Service in Des Moines, a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture that maintains a database of nearly all of Iowa's farmers, the researchers randomly selected principal farm operators and mailed questionnaires to those living and/or working full time on the farm.

Interestingly, the researchers found that safety training made little difference in injury outcomes. Farmers who reported having some safety training had only a slightly lower risk of injury.

"This is not to say that farm safety training is ineffective," Lewis notes. "Rather, it suggests that other approaches, such as improving farm equipment and workplace design, also need to be considered as ways to reduce farming-related injuries."