The University of Florida College of Public Health and Health Professions has received a nearly $10 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention through the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, or NIOSH, for a five-year project to explore the occupational safety and health of people working in agriculture, fishing and forestry in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina.
The goal of the new center is to conduct research and educational activities designed to promote occupational health and safety among Florida’s 47,000 farm operators and their families, as well as their employees and contractors.
“Much of the data about Florida’s agricultural safety and health is over a decade old,” said Dr. J. Glenn Morris, director of UF’s Emerging Pathogens Institute and a professor in the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions and the UF College of Medicine. “We need to add to the body of knowledge about farming, fishing and forestry workers in the region, so we proposed establishing a center that will facilitate collaboration with researchers throughout the Southeast.”
Dr. Morris is the director of the center, called the Southeastern and Coastal Center for Agricultural Safety and Health, or SEC-CAgSH. It will be the 11th U.S. Agricultural Safety and Health center sponsored by NIOSH.
While the University of Florida is the hosting institution, researchers from the University of South Florida, Florida State University, Emory University and Florida A&M have all agreed to work together on projects aiming to better understand the region’s occupational safety and health needs. Researchers from several UF colleges and the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, or IFAS, will participate.
“This center provides an exciting opportunity for UF faculty to use their scientific expertise to address vital public health questions that will enhance the safety and well-being of people whose work is critical to our agricultural and seafood industries,” said Dr. Michael G. Perri, dean of the College of Public Health and Health Professions.
The center will provide an opportunity to expand UF’s current training and outreach programs throughout the state and eventually the Southeast region, while developing new educational materials and methods of dissemination for diverse audiences.
Several projects are already underway. Dr. Andrew Kane, an associate professor in the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions’ department of environmental and global health, serves as the center’s associate director and lead investigator of the research project focused on Gulf seafood worker safety.
Seafood industry workers are exposed to some of the greatest occupational risks nationally, according to Dr. Kane. While there are numerous anecdotal reports of injuries, very little data exists on worker health and safety in this largely self-employed and self-insured population. Dr. Kane’s team seeks to extend current knowledge about everyday hazards and risks in northeastern Gulf fisheries through surveys, direct observations, community engagement and expanded academic and community partnerships. The team will then develop, implement and assess community-based training activities aimed at reducing injuries.