Agricultural center at UTHCT part of effort to promote national tractor safety initiative

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

A center at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler that promotes safety and health in agriculture is part of a consortium that has received a two-year $504,000 grant from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. The grant will help develop and launch an effective national public health campaign – the National Agricultural Tractor Safety Initiative – to prevent deaths and serious injuries from tractor rollovers and other tractor-related accidents.

Located on the UTHSCT campus, the Southwest Center for Agricultural Health, Injury Prevention, and Education – the SW Center for short – is one of 10 organizations involved in the tractor safety work of the NIOSH Agricultural Centers, said Jeffrey L. Levin, MD, the SW Center’s director.

“The SW Center will conduct four focus groups in Eastern and Central Texas as part of a research project in social marketing. The objective is to change people’s behavior in a way that benefits them,” said Dr. Levin, who has a master’s degree in public health.

“Focus group participants will provide feedback about the tractor safety initiative and a proposed marketing campaign designed to promote safe tractor use,” Levin said. The SW Center will work with county extension agents in Cherokee, Henderson, and McClennan counties to identify focus group members. These groups will meet in the fall. Overall, eight of the NIOSH centers will conduct 36 focus group sessions in nine states, he said.

The leading cause of death and serious injury in U.S. agriculture involves tractors turning over, running over people, entangling people, and colliding with non-farm vehicles on public roads, according to NIOSH. University of Kentucky researchers estimate that 4.46 non-fatal injuries from overturned tractors occur for every fatality. These injuries are often severe and disabling.

Safety devices such as protective rollover bars or structures exist, and, when used with seatbelts, have virtually eliminated fatalities and serious injuries, NIOSH says. However, more than half of the approximately 4.7 million agricultural tractors used in the United States lack these protections.

Founded in 1995 as part of the Department of Occupational and Environmental Health Sciences at the UTHSCT, The SW Center works with stakeholders in farming, fishing, and forestry to improve workplace health and safety in Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana. Its main focus is research and developing ways to reduce occupational disease and injury.

The SW Center shares its knowledge with employers, community groups, and workers through outreach and professional education programs.

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