Roots of Agricultural Safety and Health Education

The beginnings of agricultural safety and health go back to earliest recorded history. The Code of Hammurabi (1750 B.C.) and the Mosaic laws included specific rules relating to the well-being of agricultural workers. The Mosaic laws included provisions for ensuring that owners of livestock with horns knew that they had a responsibility to protect others from being gored, that those who dug pits or wells would provide a cover for them to prevent unintentional injury, and that builders would incorporate railings to prevent falls. Moses then instructed the people to teach these rules diligently to their children and to discuss them repeatedly to ensure that their children understood them (11). The United States public and nonprofit agricultural safety and health programs that exist today generally trace their roots to organizations such as the Cooperative Extension Service, American Society of Agricultural Engineers, National Safety Council, Farm Equipment Institute, and farm organizations such as Farm Bureau. In 1942 the National Safety Council held the first National Home and Farm Conference that eventually led to the declaration of National Farm Safety Week in 1944, a nationwide effort to educate farmers on the importance of reducing the number of injuries to ensure an uninterrupted flow of food during World War II (2,12).

Over the last 50 years, the primary means of disseminating agricultural safety information has been through the farm media and programs conducted by university- and school-based education programs. These programs were designed and conducted to address a wide range of health and safety issues. During that time very few resources were invested in exploring the effectiveness of the educational strategies, but the practices and technology of agriculture were changing so rapidly that cause-and-effect relationships would have been difficult to substantiate.

With the introduction of research funds in 1990, the research emphasis for many of the new professionals in the field has been surveillance and evaluation of the effectiveness of the educational and engineering methodologies. The decline in the number of fatal and nonfatal injuries associated with agriculture has reached a point where it is unlikely that any single strategy will result in additional decreases. Consequently, more energy is being invested in measuring results on a longitudinal and finite level. It can be argued that the most effective strategy has been the reduction in the number of people engaged in agricultural production due to new agricultural practices and intensive use of mechanization. Modern agriculture in North America is safer than at any time in its history (12).

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