New Directions in the Surveillance of Hired Farm Worker Health and Occupational Safety

A Report of the Work Group Convened by NIOSH, May 5, 1995, to Identify Priorities for Hired Farm Worker Occupational Health Surveillance and Research

Table of Contents


There are approximately 2.5 million people who perform hired agricultural work in the United States. These workers face numerous hardships in the course of their normal work day, in addition to the added stress they face as a result of the seasonal nature of their work. According to data from the National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries surveillance system, the agricultural industry has the second highest rate of occupational fatalities in the United States. Although poor working conditions for hired farm workers have been a persistent problem in the United States, they have not received sufficient attention. In 1990, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), with a congressional mandate, began an agricultural safety and health initiative. As part of this initiative, NIOSH convened a work group in May 1995 consisting of experts in the areas of public policy, farm worker health, and occupational health, to assist in developing a prioritized set of objectives for the surveillance of hired farm worker occupational safety and health. In addition to the original meeting, work group members consulted with one another over the course of a year to finalize the priorities.

New Directions in the Surveillance of Hired Farm Worker Health and Occupational Safety is the report to NIOSH from that work group. In addition to priorities for surveillance and research of the occupational safety and health of hired farm workers, this comprehensive report outlines the factors that determine the occupational health status of hired farm workers. It also suggests recommendations for overcoming barriers involved in research with this population.

In 1996, NIOSH and its partners developed the National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA) in an effort to address changes in the U.S. workplace as well as the increasingly diversified U.S. work force. NORA consists of 21 priorities areas for occupational health research, many of which are relevant to this population and the priorities outlined in this report, including: Special Populations at Risk, Surveillance Research Methods, Allergic and Irritant Dermatitis, Musculoskeletal Disorders, Asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, Control Technology and Personal Protective Equipment, Infectious Diseases, and Traumatic Injuries. Farm workers provide a good example of a population of non-English speaking, low-literacy immigrant workers who migrate between a series of temporary jobs. This report provides recommendations and highlights the complex issues involved in studying these immigrant workers.

This document, as a consensus of experts from around the United States, will be a valuable resource on the occupational safety and health needs of farm workers.

Lawrence J. Fine, M.D., Dr.P.H.
Director, Division of Surveillance, Hazard Evaluation and Field Studies
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Table of Contents


  1. Workers' Compensation by State
  2. List of Priorities for Surveillance
  3. List of Research Priorities
  4. Project Designs and Methods
  5. Work Group Members (contact information)

Work Group Members:

Valerie Wilk, Co-Chair
Rose Holden, Co-Chair
Susan Bauer
Susan Brock
Edward Hendrikson
Matthew Keifer
Gina Lombardi
Paul Monahan
Michael O'Malley
Salvador Sandoval
Emma Torres
Don Villarejo


The contents of this report are reproduced herein as received from the Work Group. The opinions, findings, and conclusions expressed herein are not necessarily those of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, nor does mention of company names or products constitute endorsement by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Report narrative prepared by Don Villarejo and Daniel Williams and submitted November 2, 1998. Contact information:

Don Villarejo/Daniel Williams
California Institute for Rural Studies
PO Box 2143
Davis CA 95617
(530) 756-6555

Cover photos: (left) courtesy of the National Center for Farmworker Health, Inc, Austin, Texas (right) courtesy of the University of California Agricultural Ergonomics Research Center (AERC), Davis, California.

This document is in the public domain and may be freely copied or reprinted.