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University of Iowa News Release

Release: Feb. 14, 2003

UI Study Looks At Machinery-Related Injuries Among Farmers

Work experience, hearing ability and alcohol use may all be risk factors for farm machinery-related injuries, according to a study by a University of Iowa research team.

Nancy Sprince, M.D., UI professor of occupational and environmental health and internal medicine, led the study. She said her findings may help in future efforts to reduce the toll of serious farm injuries.

"We know a lot about making farm machines safer," Sprince said, "but we could know much more about the medical, health and farm conditions that might increase a farmer's chance of suffering a machinery-related injury."

Tractors and combines were the major causes of injury in the study, but farmers also suffered serious injuries from other types of equipment, such as conveyors, cultivating and gardening machinery, and powered hand tools, including chainsaws, grinders and drills.

Sprince's study is the first to evaluate medical conditions such as asthma, arthritis, problem drinking and difficulties with vision and hearing as risk factors for machinery-related farm injuries.

Using questionnaires filled out by farmers, the study compared 205 farmers who received medical advice or treatment for a machinery-related injury in the previous year to 473 farmers with no injury during the same time period. In addition to describing their injuries, farmers also answered questions about their financial conditions, medical conditions, use of medications, smoking and drinking.

The survey responses revealed that farmers wearing a hearing aid were four times more likely to be injured from farm machinery than those without hearing problems. Problem drinking was associated with a 2.5 times greater risk, and farmers with less than 25 years of farming experience had a 1.8 times increased risk of injury.

Hands, fingers, back and eyes were the most frequently injured areas of the body. Of the 205 injured farmers in the study, 23 required hospitalization.

The research was part of the Agricultural Health Study, which evaluates the effects of environmental, occupational, dietary and genetic factors on the health of farmers and their spouses. Of the more than 89,000 participants in the study, about 58,000 are Iowans.

The Agricultural Health Study is a collaborative effort of the UI College of Public Health, the National Cancer Institute, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Exposure Research Laboratory of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Additional information on the study can be found at

The farm machinery-related injury study was funded by a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention through the UI Injury Prevention Research Center. The results of the study were published in the Oct.-Dec. 2002 issue of the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health.

Sprince is also director of both the Heartland Center for Occupational Health and Safety and the Occupational Medicine Residency Program at the UI.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Health Science Relations, 5139 Westlawn, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-1178

CONTACT(S): David Pedersen, (319) 335-8032, Writer: Jessie Rolph. RESEARCH CONTACT: Nancy Sprince, (319) 335-4416.