Sustainable Agriculture and Farm Worker Health Hazards

Farming Is More Dangerous Than You Think

Farm Worker Safety

Farm Worker Safety

Agriculture is statistically one of the most dangerous industries in the U.S. Agricultural workers have a fatality rate 5 times higher than the average worker–not to mention increased risk of non-fatal injuries and ailments like heart disease, cancer, respiratory problems, and chronic pain.

Chronic chemical exposure, air pollution, and mechanical hazards are some of the principal factors threatening the well-being of agricultural workers. These are particularly prevalent in concentrated animal feeding operations (or CAFOs) and food packaging facilities.

Fortunately, more and more operations are taking the health and well-being of their workers into account and providing better conditions and training to that end.

Agricultural Health Hazards

Agriculture Working Conditions and Health Hazards

Agriculture Working Conditions and Health Hazards

Air contaminants from manure such as sulfur, ammonia, carbon dioxide, methane, and endotoxins are commonplace in CAFOs. Chronic exposure to low levels or short term exposure to high levels of these substances can be hazardous.

Respiratory problems are the leading consequence of exposure. Many workers at CAFOs experience chronic bronchitis, while most will experience acute bronchitis at some point during the year.

Neurological and cardiological disorders are also linked to exposure to these toxic gases, increasing risk of arrythmia and heart attack, among other health concerns. These gases can–in rare cases–be lethal in large doses, especially in improperly ventilated facilities.

Health Hazards in Agriculture

Health Hazards in Agriculture

Food manufacturing and packaging plants also expose workers to heightened health risks. At meat packing plants, workers experience more than 6 times the rate of repeated trauma disorders than their average counterparts in manufacturing industries as a whole, suffering injuries at a rate of over 20%. In fact, meat packing falls within the top ten most dangerous industries.

Sustainable Agriculture and the Movement for Better Farm Worker Safety

Industrial farming and food operations such as these are generally oriented toward maximizing profit–sometimes at the expense of safety. While unfair labor management practices and hazardous working conditions are widespread in agricultural operations, there is an increasingly popular movement for more equitable and safe treatment of workers under the banner of sustainable agriculture.

One of the tenets of sustainable agriculture is equitable, fair, and safe treatment of workers. Providing them with proper training and safe conditions is critical to ensuring not only the health and morale of the workforce, but also the sustainability of the broader community and the food industry in general. Fair practices that protect agricultural workers from unnecessary dangers are essential to the success and continuation of the industry as a whole.

Read More About the Basics of Sustainable Agriculture.

[photocredit: GrinningPlanet; MachineFinder]

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