by Dr. Marc Schenker
We are pleased to announce that the Western Center for Agricultural Health and Safety (WCAHS) just received a $10 million grant renewal from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
Agriculture still remains one of the most hazardous industries in the US based on occupational fatality rates. Agriculture is also the largest industry in California and employs up to one million farm workers, primarily Latino immigrants who are a vulnerable population.
WCAHS’ mission is to understand and prevent illness and injury in western agriculture. We have had great success, including developing real-time pesticide exposure bioassays, ergonomically improved tools to reduce cumulative trauma injury in agricultural workers, and a state-mandated heat-related illness education campaign. Our outreach programs have reached thousands of farmers, managers and farmworkers with programs to reduce the health hazards of agricultural work.
I am delighted that outreach funding is more than quadrupled with the renewal. We plan to ramp up WCAHS educational health and safety efforts through more on-site trainings, social media, videos, and publications. WCAHS has an exciting new collaboration with the Natividad Medical Foundation in Salinas to reach indigenous farmworkers, and we continue our successful work with the Health Initiative of the Americas at UC Berkeley. From past experience, we know that creating materials and programs that are culturally, linguistically and educationally tailored to each stakeholder group – from farm workers to regulators – is key to success.
The renewal also introduces two new areas of research. Dr. Christopher Simmons will study biosolarization as an alternative to fumigation (see following interview). Dr. Stephen McCurdy will examine the risk factors and prevalence of workplace sexual harassment experienced by women Hispanic farm workers.
We continue advancing research on respiratory health, ergonomics, and heat illness in the renewal. Dr. Kent Pinkerton will focus on determining which agricultural practices pose the greatest risk in terms of worker exposure to airborne particulate matter. Dr. Fadi Fathallah will study balancing the need for crop picking productivity versus preventing musculoskeletal disorders with the use of mechanical and robotic strawberry harvest-aids. My team and I will be translating the economic, socio-cultural and physiological factors of heat illness into effective interventions, such as a phone app for farm supervisors.
In conclusion, I want to recognize the tremendous effort provided by the many faculty and staff of WCAHS. It is their effort that makes us what we are.
You can continue to expand these efforts by donating to WCAHS (give.ucdavis.edu/C4HA). Donations help support future leaders (students), research solutions, education outreach, and recommendations to state and policy makers on agriculture-related occupational health and safety.