Rural Issue

Working to implement safety and health on the farm


The Upper Midwest Agriculture Safety and Health Center (UMASH) is one of ten agricultural centers across the country funded by funded by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to address the health and safety needs in agriculture.  The center was started four years ago as a collaboration of the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine, Minnesota Department of Health and the National Farm Medicine Center.  Dr. Matt Keifer with the National Farm Medicine Center says the center’s focus has been on safety in dairy and pork production.  “We try to move things from basic science of safety to application on the farm.”

Keifer says that continues to be one of the big challenges and cites Roll Over Protection Structures (ROPS) as an example.  “They are virtually 100 percent protective for serious injury or death in the case of a tractor rollover when a seatbelt is used, without a seatbelt they’re still 75 percent effective.” Yet getting farmers to install them on older tractors is an effort.  Keifer says for some it’s the cost, for others it is finding the right ROPS for their tractor.  The National Farm Medicine Center has developed a telephone hotline to locate a ROPS for any tractor and there are programs that will finance up to 75 percent of the cost of the ROPS.  Some insurance companies will cover the remainder of the price.  “But there are still some farmers who never get around to putting that ROPS on their tractor,” says Keifer.

In an effort to get such safety messages to the farmer, they have begun to talk to the people who influence farmers; bankers, insurers, nutritionists, veterinarians, the people who provide services to the farm, those who are vested in the success of that farmer.

Another challenge on today’s farm is immigrant labor.  Keifer says in the dairy industry, a large number of those workers are Mexican and half of them had not worked on a farm before coming to the United States.  In addition, those that do have farm experience have most likely not worked on a large farm.  The National Farm Medicine Center has developed a program in Spanish to train Hispanic farm workers in safety and provide on-going support.

As farms get larger, Dr. Keifer says they do come to realize “that safety is part of the business” particularly when they start to pay Workers Compensation.  As a result, those farms pay more attention to safety and health and may even have a safety officer.

UMASH has been conducting conferences this spring to incorporate the ag safety message into the education system in the Upper Midwest.  Keifer says it is rare that ag safety is incorporated into a university or ag school setting.  They are working to change that with collaborative efforts with the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire School of Nursing, AgriSafe Network in Iowa and the Southern Minnesota Center of Agriculture for starters.  “One of the main goals is to give us a blueprint of how to get safety incorporated into agricultural curriculum.”

Keifer talks about the effort:



Learn more about UMASH here:

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