Barriers to Communication

Part of the problem of effectively applying educational principles to agricultural safety and health is the lack of a common language that professionals can use to communicate among themselves and with the population they are trying to reach. Unlike the engineering, legal, and medical professionals, who generally use highly consistent terminology to communicate, educators have yet to develop a comparable means of sharing information. Even the most fundamental terms such as education, training, competencies, school, evaluation, and instructor are interpreted to mean widely different things to different people. The terms education and training by themselves can generate a long list of nondefinitive responses such as information dissemination, persuasion, development, directed teaching, instruction, discipline, and so forth. At times even the words used to define the core components of the educator's language are unhelpful in developing a broad base of understanding.

Another aspect is the lack of consistent forms of measurement to assess program effectiveness or student performance. An engineer can measure the temperature of hydraulic oil or the angle of an incline and have his findings replicated by another engineer anywhere in the world, even if he or she speaks a different language. A physician can diagnose a disease or treat a symptom using a technique developed 50 years ago by another physician and the outcomes will be highly consistent. On the other hand, an educator can apply a standard educational strategy to a group of 20 different individuals and achieve 20 extremely varied results. Knowing that a student is able to pass a written examination on a certain area of safety does not guarantee that he or she will perform safely. It is this apparent lack of consistency and confusion over the professional language that has led other professionals to view the role of education as less rigorous or scientific and therefore less effective in contributing to a reduction in agricultural injuries.

Barriers to communication also exist that are associated with the technical terms used in agricultural production. Terms such as agricultural, farm, farm owner, and farm worker are not uniformly defined and lead to considerable confusion when attempting to identify and communicate with the target population. Another example is the term confined space that applies appropriately to a grain storage bin used in an industrial setting but, due to U.S. federal regulations, does not apply to the same structure with the same contents located on a farm.

Geographic and enterprise differences also increase the difficulty in developing uniform agricultural safety and health educational materials. Agricultural producers in Wyoming do not want to be referred to as farmers but prefer the term rancher. Even certain production practices have developed terminology unique to geographic regions, countries, or continents.

The most rapidly growing barriers to communication between health and safety professionals and the agricultural community are literacy and language. The U.S. Department of Education's National Adult Literacy (NAL)

survey in 1993 found that nearly 50% of Americans over the age of 16 lacked the reading and writing skills to function effectively in the workplace. Of this functionally illiterate population, almost half were barely able to read or write at all, while the rest lacked literacy skills beyond the fifth-grade level. Forty-three percent of those with the lowest literacy skills lived in poverty, 17% received food stamps, and 70% had no job or only part-time employment such as seasonal and migrant farm work. Research to assess the pesticide safety knowledge of Hispanic migrant farm workers has found that such assessments are difficult because of the increasing number of migrant workers who speak indigenous languages and cannot understand either the English or Spanish training materials. It has been shown that even in high school-based agricultural education programs literacy skills reduce the effectiveness of computer-based education programs (13-15).

As there has been a decline in the number of seasonal and migrant agricultural workers, there has been a rapid growth in the number of Spanish-speaking workers employed in permanent positions in production agriculture. There is currently little agricultural safety and health information suitable for use with this population (12).

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