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Great Lakes facility becomes fifth NIOSH center for ag worker safety and health

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Photo: A picture of a farmworker harvesting gladiolas, one of Illinois’ cash crops. Source: Linda Frost/University of Illinois Chicago

Washington — NIOSH has established the Great Lakes Center for Farmworker Health and Wellbeing.

Based at the University of Illinois at Chicago, the Great Lakes Center becomes the 11th center for agricultural safety and health – or Ag Center – nationwide. The others are in California, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York, Texas and Washington state.

NIOSH and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention created the Ag Centers as part of a joint initiative launched in 1990. The centers collaborate on national efforts and events, while each also “specializes in the distinct agricultural, forestry, and fishing industries and worker safety and health needs of their region,” Jennifer Lincoln, associate director of NIOSH’s Office of Agricultural Safety and Health, said in a press release.

“Having a new center that covers the Great Lakes area and focuses on worker health and well-being is a welcome and timely addition to the Ag Centers’ capacity to conduct research, train workers and promote best practices,” Lincoln added.

 

Although NIOSH notes “steady declines” in fatal on-the-job injuries among workers in the agricultural, forestry and fishing sector over the past 30 years, the overall rate of fatal workplace injuries in the sector in 2020 was 21.5 per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers. That compares with an overall rate of 3.4 among all private industries, according to Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in December.

“For decades, the Ag Centers have been integral to our efforts to reduce injury and illness in the agriculture, forestry and fishing sector,” NIOSH Director John Howard said in the release. “The addition of the new Illinois center expands the regional scope in NIOSH’s capacity to address the growing need for research and interventions to address the mental health and well-being of agriculture workers.”

NIOSH lists “using medical records to identify and characterize farmworker illness and injury” among the center’s initial objectives. “Nonfatal farmworker injuries and illnesses often go unreported,” the agency says.

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