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Columns

April 2, 2011

Funds needed to save farmers' lives

On Aug. 18, a 52-year-old onion grower was killed when his tractor rolled on top of him at his family farm in the town of Oswego.

That same month, an experienced 45-year-old farmer in Steuben County was using his tractor on top of a large silage-filled bunker when his six-ton tractor slipped and rolled over. He lived. Fortunately, he had recently installed a rollover protective structure, or ROPS, on his tractor through a life-saving program sponsored by the New York Center for Agricultural Medicine and Health. However, federal budget cuts now being considered would eliminate funding for this program.

The New York State Tractor Rollover Protection Rebate Program has successfully targeted the leading cause of death on farms _ tractor overturns. For more than four years, NYCAMH has provided logistical and cost-sharing assistance for farmers interested in installing ROPS. ROPS are 99 percent effective in preventing harm to the operator in the event of an overturn, and the program has been so successful that it recently expanded to New Hampshire, Vermont and Pennsylvania.

Even more unfortunate is the fact that ROPS is just one of many life-saving programs sponsored by NYCAMH and only one of the programs that would be eliminated if budget cuts are approved.

The following list provides some examples threatened by the proposed cuts in federal funding:

The Farm Partners program provides counseling and case-work assistance to farmers who lack medical insurance, suffer from physical disabilities or need help with dealing with work-related stress.

Muscle stress and strain are the most frequent occupational health complaints of apple harvesters. NYCAMH researchers worked with orchard owners and workers to redesign the apple harvesting equipment to reduce muscle strain while maintaining harvest speed.

NYCAMH's child safety program helps parents match farm chores with their child's physical capabilities. This program is part of a national effort to address child safety issues on farms. During the past 10 years, the national agricultural injury rate among children has dropped nearly 60 percent.

Due to the rural nature of farming, rescuing injured farmers can be very complicated and dangerous. NYCAMH's First Aid and Emergency Response Training program provides first aid training to farmers and farm workers to keep victims alive until EMT personnel arrive. They also provide training to EMTs so they know how to extricate victims from farm machinery and how to deal with large animals, chemical exposures or other dangers specific to farming.

NYCAMH researchers have improved screening and treatment for work-related health conditions on farms, from farmer's lung to arthritis, throughout the Northeast.

In summary, for nearly 25 years, NYCAMH has been working with New York farmers to decrease the number of farmers killed and injured on the job; address worksite hazards; prevent costly injuries; and reduce workers' compensation costs. Although many of us understand the need to reduce our national deficit, it is important to note that: "¢ Agriculture has the highest occupational fatality rate of any U.S. industry.

"¢ A U.S. farmer is 8 times more likely to die working than the average U.S. worker.

"¢ Many fatalities and injuries involve children, the elderly, uninsured or undocumented workers.

These injuries and fatalities have their own associated costs.

See NYCAMH on Page D2

For example, the financial cost of farm injuries and fatalities exceeds $4 billion. Billions more are spent to care for under and uninsured farmers. Cutting the investment in agricultural safety programs will

only increase costs, not reduce them.

NYCAMH provides vital services to the most at-risk segment of our workforce, farmers. To show your support for NYCAMH please call U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's office today at (202) 224-3671 or Sen. Charles Schumer's office at (202) 224-6542 and ask that they protect farmers and keep funding for the NIOSH Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing Program intact.

Julie Sorensen is a researcher at the New York Center for Agricultural Medicine and Health/Northeast Center for Agricultural and Occupational Health in Cooperstown. NYCAMH works with farmers, agricultural service providers, land grant universities, equipment manufacturers and health-care providers to provide programs, trainings, counseling and case-work assistance to the farming community.

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