High rates of Illnesses, injuries and fatalities among farmers, farmworkers, and their families have long been recognized as a challenge to Iowa’s agricultural sustainability. To address this problem, in 1990, Iowa legislators Wendell Pellett (R) and Josephine Gruhn (D) co-sponsored the bill that established Iowa’s Center for Agricultural Safety and Health (Iowa Code, 262.78). Although the center was established at the University of Iowa, it brings together the expertise of Iowa State University, the Iowa Department of Public Health, and the Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship to reduce the rates of injuries and illnesses associated with agriculture.
Although the numbers of agricultural fatalities and injuries have gone down over time, so have the number of farmers. This means that rates of injuries and fatalities have remained steady over time and they are consistently six to seven times higher than other industries. Farmers make up only 5% of Iowa’s workforce, but they suffer more than 30% of the state’s occupational injuries and fatalities. Most years, agriculture is responsible for the highest proportion of occupational fatalities of any industry in Iowa.
I-CASH’s mission is to lead statewide partnerships that promote agricultural safety and health. Because most farms in Iowa employ ten or fewer non-related employees each year, farms are not subject to the oversight of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, nor do they have easy access to the resources and training that OSHA provides other industries. Thus, I-CASH fills a critical gap by disseminating best practices for safe and healthy farms.
As a partner-based organization, I-CASH works with ISU Extension and Outreach, Farm Service Agency offices, commodity groups, and others to ensure statewide coverage of the materials developed by the center. I-CASH distributes health and safety resources to every ISUEO and FSA office the state four times per year. Over 50,000 farm safety and health items have been distributed since summer 2015 on topics such as lock-out-tag-out procedures, livestock handling safety, pain management and physical health, skin cancer prevention, and ATV safety. In recent evaluation surveys, personnel at FSA and extension offices reported enhanced knowledge about agricultural safety and health issues as well as frequently using the I-CASH resources in their own work with Iowa farmers.
I-CASH also works in tandem with other UI centers and state organizations to co-host the annual Midwest Rural Agricultural Safety and Health conference, bringing together around 100 researchers, students, agribusiness reps, and producers each year. I-CASH works with Iowa Farmer Today, contributing to a monthly Safety Watch column that is distributed across the region. Since 1998, I-CASH has provided grants in 60 Iowa counties for youth organizations to carry out agricultural safety and health activities.
The state of Iowa appropriation is used to support the development of safety and health materials and resources that are made available to workers in the agriculture industry, including items distributed through ISUEO and FSA offices, tailored safety policy guides for individual farms, and the annual Agricultural Youth Injury Prevention grant program. In addition, state funds support the annual MRASH conference and enhance I-CASH’s ability to be responsive to the needs of Iowa’s farmers.