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Raising the profile of worker safety in agriculture

Thursday, March 26, 2015

If our agriculture industry is going to feed the world’s 9 billion people, we should care enough to do it safely, humanely and sustainably. 

Current projections set the world population at nearly 9 billion humans by 2050. The unprecedented, near-geometric population increase of the last two centuries has occurred based on multiple innovations—industrial, economic, technical and social—that have sharply decreased infant and child mortality while simultaneously increasing life expectancy. Incorporating multiple agricultural innovations over the last one-half century, the Green Revolution has enabled the worldwide production of food to keep up with this sharp growth.

Unfortunately, the workforce for agriculture has not reaped such substantial safety or health benefits as has the general population from this development. Agriculture continues to be one of the highest-risk industrial sectors for occupational death, injury and illness, even in highly-developed nations such as the United States where production agriculture costs almost 500 lives every year. In the United States, many farmers and agricultural workers labor under difficult conditions, enduring very long hours, heat and cold, and machinery hazards. These adverse conditions are too often associated with occupational diseases and injuries that may impact the economic “bottom line” of the agribusiness directly or indirectly. 

In 1990 the U.S. Surgeon General’s Conference on Agricultural Safety and Health was the impetus to launch a national initiative addressing research, education and policies for improving the well-being of workers and families involved in U.S. agriculture. Since that time no single event has galvanized the public and private sector to update national agricultural safety and health priorities based on the worldwide demand for food production, new agricultural technologies, or a comprehensive assessment of achievements in resolving past problems and gaps in addressing persistent and emerging issues. 

Over the past two decades, periodic conferences and workshops have targeted specific audiences with the objectives of building knowledge and promoting best safety practices for agricultural workers. But these events did not effectively engage producers and agribusinesses. Leaders of farm organizations and agribusinesses, as well as public servants representing agriculture, safety and public health, will benefit from a larger, common vision—a vision that will help set priorities for the future with a goal of bridging research with current issues and agricultural practices, then making this information readily available via current technologies on a national level.

The 2013 North American Agricultural Safety Summit, which convenes Sept. 25-27 in Minneapolis, is not a stand-alone conference. Rather, this summit is a step in the process of generating consensus on best agricultural safety practices, which are being documented for video education, action plans, white papers and publications. The primary audience will be leaders in positions to influence their organizations, members and constituents. These might include Board of Director-members of cooperatives and farm organizations; industry executives and their risk managers; farm/ranch management advisors and safety consultants; university faculty and researchers; agricultural educators, agricultural association leaders; and many others. 

The Summit features interactive sessions and innovative learning opportunities appealing to individuals with unique experiences and various reasons for participating. We seek representation from all geographic regions and all major commodities/businesses involved in food production and worker safety.  For more information on the 2013 North American Agricultural Safety Summit visit the Agricultural Safety and Health Council of America (ASHCA) website:

Agricultural producers, employees and their families are depending on us to ensure their safety and health.

William Nelson William Nelson (
Vice President, Corporate Citizenship, CHS Inc., Chair, Agricultural Safety and Health Council of America,

View more posts by William Nelson

The views and opinions expressed in AgChllenge2050 blog posts are solely the opinions of the authors, and not those of Farm Foundation, NFP.