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Member Research and Reports

Member Research and Reports

Kentucky Researchers Ask: Generation after Generation, Why Do Farmers Choose High-risk Agricultural Work?

Why do generations of farmers tolerate the high-risk work of agricultural work and resist safe farm practices? A University of Kentucky College of Public Health paper published in the Journal of Safety Research presents an analysis inspired by empirical data from studies conducted from 1993 to 2012 on the differing effects of farm safety interventions between participants who live or work on farms and those who don’t, when both were learning to be farm safety advocates. Both groups show statistically significant gains in knowledge and behavioral change proxy measures. However, non-farm participants’ gains consistently outstripped their live/work farm counterparts.


[Photo: Dr. Susan Westneat]

Drawing on socio-cultural perspectives, researchers performed a grounded theory qualitative analysis focused on identifying useful constructs to understand the farmers’ resistance to adopt safety practices.

Understanding apprenticeships of observation and its relation to experiential learning over time can expose sources of deeply anchored beliefs and how they operate insidiously to promote familiar, albeit unsafe farming practices. The challenge for intervention-prevention programs becomes how to disrupt what has been learned during these apprenticeships of observation and to address what has been obscured during this powerful socialization process.

Implications focus on the design and implementation of farm safety prevention and education programs. First, farm safety advocates and prevention researchers need to attend to demographics and explicitly explore the prior experiences and background of safety program participants. Second, farm youth in particular need to explore, explicitly, their own apprenticeships of observations, preferably through the use of new social media and or digital forms of expression, resulting in a story repair process. Third, careful study of the organization of work and farm experiences and practices need to provide the foundations for intervention programs. Finally, it is crucial that farm safety programs understand apprenticeships of observation are generational and ongoing over time, and interventions prevention programs need to be ‘in it’ for the long haul.

Dr. Susan Westneat, epidemiologist with the UK College of Public Health Southeast Center for Agricultural Health and Injury Prevention, is co-author of the paper.