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Dr. Rautiainen Focuses on Agricultural Health and Safety

Spotlight on Research at COPH

“Farmer run over and pinned under rear wheel of a tractor,” “Rancher knocked down by a cow while moving cattle on ranch,” “Two workers overcome by toxic gases when pumping manure between lagoons.” These are examples of serious agricultural injuries in Nebraska last year. Agriculture is the most hazardous industry in the nation, yet we rarely hear about it in the news. If there is a major mining incident, it is front-page news worldwide—and rightly so. But while in 2010 there were 172 mining fatalities in the US, agriculture had 596 fatalities and a fatality rate eight times higher than all industries on average. Dr. Risto Rautiainen, associate professor in the Department of Environmental, Agricultural, and Occupational Health, states that “one reason that farm incidents are under-reported in the media is that they typically involve just one victim.” Injuries such as those listed above may be reported locally, but they are not newsworthy beyond the local TV viewing area. “And this is just the tip of the iceberg,” says Dr. Rautiainen. “From surveys and studies, we know that non-fatal injuries and work-related illnesses are frequent on farms, but data on these outcomes are not collected systematically. We don’t have a clear picture of their frequency, risk factors, and causes, or if are we making progress in prevention.”


Even from the limited data available, it is clear agricultural injuries and illnesses are a major public health problem in Nebraska and the nation—but is there a solution? The UNMC College of Public Health recently established a new center with funding from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The new Central States Center for Agricultural Safety and Health (PI Dr. Rautiainen) started operation in October, joining a national network of nine similar centers. “This is a significant new resource for Nebraska and the region,” states Dr. Rautiainen. “Our center will investigate asthma in animal confinement workers, and we will conduct annual surveys to establish injury rates and risk factors for our seven-state region, including Nebraska. We will collaborate with partners reaching out to farm audiences, including traditional family farms, and non-traditional farm operations, including organic farms and part-time farms. We will collaborate with the media in getting the word out about prevention. This is an exciting new opportunity for us, and we hope that with this new resource, we can make a difference, reducing injury and illness among farmers, family members, and workers on farms and ranches in Nebraska and the region.”

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