PA 17-5-2801 Orangic dust: a health risk underestimated by grain farmers

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Abstract

Background

American agriculture is a diverse and dangerous industry, and has limited oversight by U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). As with other industries, risks for occupational health exposures occur everyday as workers complete their daily tasks. When these practices occur on private, family-owned property, there is much left to the unknown. NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) report crop workers having significantly elevated mortality and morbidity for a number of respiratory conditions, including hypersensitivity pneumonitis, asthma, bronchitis, histoplasmosis, tuberculosis, pneumonia, and influenza. Mortality for hypersensitivity pneumonitis is more than ten times higher than expected. While agricultural technologies have changed drastically over the past 100 years, with small grain operations becoming more efficient and highly specialized, health and safety professionals must continue to understand the occupational health concerns. They must also develop prevention strategies that will be used by today’s agricultural workforce.

Methods

Ohio grain farmers (n=182) were surveyed using a 4-part, 62-item questionnaire to determine farmers’ knowledge about organic dust and their behaviors during work at their on-farm storage system. Respirable dust samples were also collected on farm sites.

Findings

Approximately 82% farmers reported some knowledge about their health risks of organic dust exposure. However, only 33.4% farmers identified adequate PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) to protect themselves from organic dust. During the farm visits, researchers observed farmers not always wearing the appropriate PPE. During the sampling phase, organic dust measurements at 75% of the farms visited, contained dust concentration levels over the permissible exposure limit of 10 mg/m3 – criteria set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and NIOSH.

Conclusion

The research shows a mismatch between knowledge and workplace practices. Organic dust is an underestimated risk for Ohio grain farmers. There is a need for better prevention and education efforts within this farm community.

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