From NYCAMH.org, New York Center for Agricultural Medicine and Health, 5 Jul 2011.
A proposal to eliminate federal funding for The Northeast Center for Agricultural and Occupational Health (NEC) and six other similar centers around the country prompted a visit from Congressman Richard Hanna’s office to NEC’s Cooperstown offices last week. NEC is charged with protecting workers in the three most dangerous industries in the U.S., agriculture, forestry and fishing, and although the program has been extremely successful, the funding it relies on is targeted for elimination in the President’s 2012 budget.
NEC and six other centers in the U.S. are funded through the National Institutes of Occupational Safety and Health Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing Program (NIOSH AFF). Each of the centers was established to assure safe and healthful working conditions through research, education and training. Here in the Northeast, NEC is well known for its work to reduce fatalities, traumatic injuries and injuries among farmers, foresters and fishermen. However, that work is in jeopardy because the President’s 2012 budget proposal eliminates the NIOSH AFF funding.
Congressman Hanna has worked to preserve the program and his staff made the trip to Cooperstown to learn firsthand about NEC’s work. Adam Hepburn, Congressman Hanna’s top legislative aide, Andrew Brady, Hanna’s health advisor, and Brandon Eden, Hanna’s defense advisor, toured the research facility looking at displays and listening to presentations highlighting the many NEC health and safety activities.
According to NEC Director John May, MD, their visit provided a welcome opportunity to share the challenges and vital work being done by NIOSH AFF Centers. May states, “It’s important for legislators to understand what is important and unique about the NIOSH AFF regional research centers. In contrast to regulatory agencies that impose fines to reduce workplace hazards, we work directly with communities and industries on a grassroots level to develop tailored safety solutions that also maintain productivity and economic viability.” As May indicates, this formula for addressing health and safety issues has been quite successful. “Not only do we have a great working relationship with farmers, loggers and fishermen, we have developed initiatives that have made the workplace safer.” Some NEC success stories shared by May include:
- the Rollover Protective Structure Rebate Program, which has assisted farmers with the installation of rollover protective structures to prevent the most frequent cause of farm deaths;
- the redesign of harvesting equipment to reduce musculoskeletal injuries;
- a program to install power take-off shields, another frequent source of farm injury, and
- the development of hand washing stations that have helped local farmers avoid thousands of dollars in OSHA fines.
The termination of the NIOSH AFF programs has attracted attention in many other regions of the country, particularly in the Northwest where fishermen experience substantially increased risk of work injuries and fatalities. Captain Keith Colburn, an Alaska crab fishermen of the Wizard, one of seven fishing vessels featured on Discovery Channel’s “Deadliest Catch”, called the program termination ‘criminal’. “To me,” said Colburn, “it almost seems criminal to shut down an office or a service in the United States that’s been so successful.” He adds, “I would think that there are a thousand other offices just turning paperwork over everyday and accomplishing virtually nothing [rather than] shutting down an office that is having quantifiable, solid results.”
Congressman Richard Hanna and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand have been crucial allies in efforts to preserve the $23 million in funding for the NIOSH AFF program. Senator Schumer and NY House Representatives Joseph Crowley, Maurice Hinchey, Carolyn Maloney, Bill Owens, Chris Gibson, and Paul Tonko have also demonstrated support for the program and continued efforts to protect NewYork farmers, foresters and their families.
The New York Center for Agricultural Medicine and Health, a program of Bassett Healthcare Network, is designated by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) as the Northeast Center for Agricultural Health (NEC), one of seven agricultural centers across the country. Serving an eleven-state region from Maine through West Virginia, NEC promotes farm health and safety research, education, and prevention activities. In partnership with other NIOSH centers, state and federal agencies, land grant universities, medical centers, and farm groups, NYCAMH/NEC uses injury and illness research findings to develop preventive teaching, educational health screening, demonstrations, and activities. Learn more at www.nycamh.com