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Release: Oct. 3, 2000

Iowa's Center for Agricultural Safety and Health pays tribute to Iowa Farm Families

To the Editor:

During this fall's harvest season, we would like to pay tribute to Iowa farm families and recommit ourselves to improving their safety and health.

Every day Iowa farmers face health and safety risks as they produce food for our state, our nation and the world. Farmers and their families work in a job long known to be among the most dangerous occupations. Nearly 50 Iowa farmers or family members die yearly and an additional 2,300 become injured. Yet the 350,000 people who live and work on Iowa farms are rarely given credit for the tremendous contributions they make to the economic and social fabric of the state. In addition to their $13 billion economic contribution, farm families form a cornerstone of Iowa's social and cultural values and traditions.

As leaders of major state institutions involved in Iowa's Center for Agricultural Safety and Health (I-CASH), we recognize the importance of our farm community and strive to protect its health. We are fortunate to be a part of a consortium of Iowa institutions (I-CASH) that leads the nation in efforts to curb the inordinately high rates of farm-related injuries, fatalities and health problems. Federally supported centers, state agencies and organizations work closely with private safety organizations, hospitals and agribusinesses in Iowa to enhance the health of farm families.

I-CASH was created by state legislation in 1990. I-CASH is headquartered at the University of Iowa and is a cooperative venture with Iowa State University, the Iowa Department of Public Health, and the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. The mission of I-CASH is to reduce illnesses and injuries among Iowa's farm families and workers by combining and coordinating our state's public and private resources.

Through its AgriSafe Network, I-CASH has the only network of clinics in the country providing preventive health and safety services specifically tailored to the needs of farmers. I-CASH faculty and staff at the University of Iowa train and certify nurses, physicians and other health care providers in agricultural medicine. These highly trained and dedicated people operate 24 agricultural health clinics around Iowa.

In addition, I-CASH is pilot testing a voluntary Certified Safe Farm program in northwest Iowa, working with Spencer Municipal Hospital, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Pioneer Hi-Bred International, the National Pork Producers Council, the Iowa Pork Producers Association, insurance companies and others. The goal is to make safety pay off through insurance and other incentives for farmers who undergo health screenings and education, and whose operations pass a safety inspection. The program currently has 300 farms enrolled in the two-year pilot program to test the effectiveness of this concept.

The University of Iowa also houses two important centers focused on health and injury prevention in the farm population. The Great Plains Center for Agricultural Health and the Iowa Injury Prevention Research Center study an array of issues ranging from respiratory disease to the relationship between mental health and physical injury.

Iowa State University Extension, an I-CASH partner, offers a diversity of educational and accessible farm safety programs. These programs include tractor certification for employment, farm safety day camps, in-school safety programs, training for agricultural chemical applicators, extension hotlines and individual assistance. These programs and a variety of printed and supporting resources are made available through the network of the county extension offices and the dedicated professionals helping to make Iowa farms a safer place to work and live.

The Iowa Department of Public Health operates a surveillance program to keep track of farm injuries and illnesses. Have we made progress in control of farm injuries and illness? The data from 1990-2000 shows a decline from around 70 deaths per year in the first half of the decade to about 40 per year in the last half of the decade. 1998 was the first year since keeping records that no child was killed from an occupational farm exposure in Iowa. We are making significant progress toward our 2010 goal of zero deaths in farm children from occupational exposures, and a 25 percent reduction in injuries and deaths in all farmers.

I-CASH is also leading an important program to prevent tractor-related injuries, the leading cause of death on farms. Iowa State University Extension provides specialized safety education with tractor certification training, farm safety day camps, in-school enrichment programs and the visiting professor program to more than 8,000 Iowa youths each year. A network of county extension education directors, field specialists and campus staff and faculty support farm safety through educational programming, local awareness events, radio interviews and a supply of printed bulletins, fact sheets and training materials.

The National Education Center for Agricultural Safety (NECAS) is located at Northeast Iowa Community College (NICC) in Peosta. The NECAS is a National Safety Council and NICC partnership to provide training and education nationwide. The NECAS is currently building a training center to provide hands-on training in agricultural safety that can be utilized by groups around the country, including I-CASH, the Great Plains Center for Agricultural Health, and other farm organizations.

Iowa is also home to Farm Safety 4 Just Kids (FS4JK), a national, non-profit organization founded by Marilyn Adams, whose son died in a farm incident in 1986. FS4JK is in its 14th year advocating the prevention of farm-related childhood injuries, health risks and fatalities. From its small beginnings, FS4JK has grown into a 3,000-member organization with more than 120 chapters in the U.S. and Canada.

A new participant in the I-CASH network is Sharing Help Awareness United Network (SHAUN). SHAUN helps farm families deal with mental health issues related to injuries, fatalities and farm stress.

This year, farmer safety is more at risk than usual. Farming injuries and fatalities usually increase during periods of economic stress. It is particularly important that we use National Farm Safety and Health Week to call attention to these concerns. We thank Iowa farmers, farm workers, and their families for working together to reduce the toll of fatalities, injuries and health problems among Iowa's agricultural population. We reaffirm a collective commitment in these endeavors.

Please have a safe harvest!

Mary Sue Coleman, President, University of Iowa
Stephen Gleason, Director, Iowa Department of Public Health
Richard C. Seagrave, Interim President, Iowa State University
Patty Judge, Secretary of Agriculture, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship
Steve Reynolds, Director, Great Plains Center for Agricultural Health
Craig Zwerling, Director, Iowa Injury Prevention Research Center
Kelley Donham, Director, Iowa's Center for Agricultural Safety and Health
Marilyn Adams, President, Farm Safety 4 Just Kids
Rob Denson, President, Northeast Iowa Community College