Agriculture, Forestry, and Fishing
Participating core and specialty program: Center for Maritime Safety and Health Studies, Center for Work and Fatigue Research, Occupational Health Equity
Employers, policy-makers, non-governmental organizations, and industry associations use NIOSH information to reduce injury and illness among agriculture, fishing, and seafood processing workers in precarious employment arrangements.
NOTE: Goals in bold in the table below are priorities for extramural research.
|Health Outcome||Research Focus||Worker Populatio||Research Type|
|A||Fatal and nonfatal injuries; mental health (e.g., suicide, depression anxiety);||Nature, prevalence, and impact of precarious employment arrangements
|Foreign-born, migrant, or seasonal workers in agriculture, fishing, or seafood processing||Surveillance|
|B||Fatal and nonfatal injuries; mental health (e.g., suicide, depression anxiety)||Interventions which address employer ambiguity, inadequate occupational safety and health training, and overlapping health disparities related to precarious employment arrangements
|Foreign-born, migrant, or seasonal worker in agriculture, fishing, or seafood processing||Intervention|
Activity Goal 7.16.1 (Intervention Research): Conduct intervention studies to develop and assess new safety and health programs and interventions to reduce injury and illness among agriculture, fishing, and seafood processing workers in precarious employment arrangements.
Activity Goal 7.16.2 (Surveillance Research): Conduct surveillance research to better characterize the nature, prevalence, and impact of precarious work on agriculture, fishing, and seafood processing workers.
In 2019, Agriculture, Forestry, and Fishing (AgFF) had the highest fatal injury rate among all industry sectors, at 23.1 per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers (FTEs), compared to the all-worker rate of 3.5 per 100,000 FTEs [BLS 2020a]. Similarly, in 2018-2019 AgFF workers were at high risk for non-fatal injury and illness, with a rate of 5.2 per 100 FTEs, compared to the all-worker rate of 3.0 per 100 FTEs [BLS 2020b]. The non-fatal injury and illness rate is likely severely underestimated due to limitations in reporting and methodology of surveying employers (e.g., exclusion of self-employed workers, as well as underreporting due to fear of retaliation or inability to take time off from work) [Johnson et al. 2021; Leigh et al. 2004; Orrenius and Zavodny 2009]. Commercial fishing and seafood processing workers also have high fatal injury and non-fatal injury and illness rates. During 2019, commercial fishermen experienced a fatality rate of 145 deaths per 100,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) workers, compared with an average of 3.5 deaths per 100,000 FTE workers among all U.S. workers [BLS 2020c]. During 2011-2017, seafood processing workers had the highest injury and illness rate of any U.S. maritime workers at 6,670 injuries/illnesses per 100,000 workers [NIOSH 2020].
Much of AgFF work centers around seasonal activities tied to planting, harvests, and fisheries schedules. AgFF workers may move from one harvest crop or fishing season to the next. This seasonal or temporary work means pay is not guaranteed or stable over time and may be affected by factors out of the workers’ control such as weather, market shifts, and economic trade policy. Agriculture workers are often paid low wages, are less likely to have health insurance, be part of organized labor, or know their rights. Likewise, much of the sector is not covered by many worker safety and health protections at the state or federal level, especially in operations of ten or less non-family workers [Liebman et al. 2013; Siqueira et al. 2014].
Foreign -born, migrant or seasonal workers are more likely to be in precarious employment arrangements [Acury 2013]. Pena  found that undocumented and foreign-born workers were more likely to be paid by piece-rate and were at higher risk for poverty. These workers are also more likely to face discrimination, live in sub-standard housing, and be disproportionally affected by health disparities [CDC 2021; Hernandez and Gabbard 2018]. It is estimated that at least one half of crop agriculture production is done by undocumented workers [Hernandez and Gabbard 2018]. There is considerable stress and fear surrounding undocumented status and fear of deportation which can result in workers being reluctant to report hazards or unfair treatment in the workplace [Acury et al. 2007; Flynn el al., 2015; Snipes et. al 2007]. However, foreign-born and undocumented workers are underrepresented in epidemiological studies as public health agencies have not developed the capacity to effectively work with them, lack accurate denominator data, and tend to receive underreported numbers of worker injury [Flynn et al., 2021; Moyce and Shenker 2017].
Recent studies of AgFF workers have shown workers in precarious employment are at increased risk of injury and illness even within the sector. A study of Ohio workers compensation claims found higher rates of injury in temporary workers compared to permanent workers in the agriculture sector [Tarawneh 2020]. In addition, a study [Alterman et al. 2018] on elevated depressive symptoms (EDS) among hired crop workers during 2009-2010 concluded the prevalence of EDS was 8.3% in men and 17.1% in women. Risk factors for experiencing EDS included ability to read English, fear of being fired from their current farm job, and method of payment (piece, salary, or a combination) [Alterman et al. 2018]. There is evidence that studying each work arrangement type separately and in depth highlights the differences in job stress and health-related quality of life by arrangement; likewise, work arrangement is an important predictor of job stress, and compared with non-stressed workers, stressed workers across all arrangements report more days in poor physical and mental health and more days with activity limitations [Ray at al. 2017].
There is a great need to address surveillance and intervention research gaps related to all AgFF workers in precarious employment arrangements. However, research should focus first on the workers most affected by these conditions and arrangements: foreign born, migrant, or seasonal workers in agriculture, fishing, and seafood processing. Because these industries rely heavily on pay based on how quickly work is completed and the size of the harvest, more research needs to be conducted on injury and illness as an effect of piece-rate and crew shares. Researchers still do not fully understand the relationship between suboptimal work design and resulting fatigue and stress which may potentially lead to injuries, depression, anxiety, cognitive impairment, suicide, and other related health and safety outcomes. Research to better characterize the impact of precarious employment arrangements on injury, illness, mental health, and well-being is necessary.
Surveillance data on the nature and prevalence of precarious employment arrangements is necessary to better understand the extent of the problem. This may include surveillance on work practices, work factors (psychosocial, safety climate, and economic), and health outcomes specifically among this worker population of focus. Surveillance research is also necessary to better characterize and track the overlapping disproportionate health and safety impacts for these workers, as well as the burden suffered by workers and their families, employers, and communities. Critical intervention research is necessary to evaluate the (cost-)effectiveness of interventions that aim to improve the safety, health, and well-being. Findings from this research need to be incorporated into mandatory and consensus standards, guidance, and other influential documents. Moreover, these programs and interventions should be as Ramos and Schenker  note, “culturally, linguistically, and logically relevant” and “address multiple levels of the socioecological model” as AgFF workers are disproportionally affected by overlapping structural vulnerabilities (racial and ethnic minorities, rural and remote locations, lack of access to healthcare and health insurance, etc.) [NIOSH/ASSE 2015]– many of which are connected to the inherent characteristics of AgFF work and precarious employment.
Employers, policy-makers, non-governmental organizations, and industry associations use NIOSH information to reduce injuries and illnesses related to work organization, fatigue, and mental health in the agriculture, forestry, and fishing sector.
NOTE: Goals in bold in the table below are priorities for extramural research.
|Health Outcome||Research Focus||Worker Population||Research Type|
|A||Fatal and nonfatal injuries; mental health (e.g., suicide, depression anxiety)||Fatigue and sleep deprivation from long shifts over consecutive days, task-oriented fatigue||All AgFF sub-industries, especially disproportionally affected groups and small businesses||Intervention
|B||Heat-related illnesses;||Heat stress
|Outdoor workers in agriculture, forestry, or fishing||Translation|
|C||Mental health (e.g., suicide, depression anxiety, PTSD), substance use disorders||Improve resiliency after exposure to traumatic and unpredictable events (climate change, workplace catastrophes, economic and policy issues, succession planning) and health disparities||All AgFF sub-industries, but especially disproportionally affected groups and small businesses||Intervention
Activity Goal 7.17.1 (Intervention Research): Conduct studies to develop and assess the effectiveness of interventions to reduce injuries and illnesses related to work organization, fatigue, and mental health in the agriculture, forestry, and fishing sector.
Activity Goal 7.17.2 (Translation Research): Conduct translation research to understand barriers and aids to disseminating and implementing effective interventions to prevent heat-related illness among outdoor workers in agriculture, forestry, and fishing sector.
Unlike many sectors, most AgFF workers are specifically exempt from many regulatory policies regarding minimum wage, overtime, maximum hours per shift, child labor, and health and safety enforcement [Liebman et al. 2013; Quandt et al. 2019]. AgFF workers often live where they work or commute long distances to and from remote worksites, adding to the length of the workday. Living and working in the same place means it is often hard to truly be “off the clock” and disengage from work, especially for crewmembers at sea who cannot “walk off” the vessel to escape worksite stressors [Binkley 1996; Garcia and Castro 2017]. U.S. agriculture workers also work longer hours on average, but hours can vary by the type of commodity produced and by season. For example, agriculture and related industry full-time workers on average worked 47.6 hrs/wk; whereas, the national average for nonagricultural full-time workers was 42.5 hrs/wk [BLS 2020d]. Moreover, 19.3% of agriculture workers reported working 60+ hrs/wk compared to 6.4% of nonagricultural workers. [BLS 2020d]. Workers in this sector experience acute sleep events, chronic fatigue, as well as task-oriented fatigue, but there is little research specifically addressing sleep deprivation and fatigue in the AgFF sector.[Elliott et al. 2021]. AgFF sector workers often have long shifts (16 + hours per day), especially during peak harvest and production seasons, and operations frequently run 24-hours per day, and shift work is prevalent in these industries, especially in commercial fishing, seafood processing, and forestry [Garcia and Castro 2017; Liebman et al. 2013; Siqueira et al. 2014]. Motor vehicle crashes involving farm equipment, logging vehicles, ATVs, and fishing vessels due to long hours, worker fatigue, and advanced age are of concern in the sector [Helmkamp et al. 2011; Jennissen et al. 2020; NTSB 2021]. Exposure to heat stress may also increase fatigue due to physiological energy expenditures. Alternatively, workers may get less sleep or disrupt circadian rhythm by starting shifts earlier or later to avoid increasingly extreme temperatures. Harvests are frequently dependent on weather, which often results in working longer hours when the weather is good and/or when there is impending bad weather. Economic and time pressures may result in shortcuts and/or working despite high levels of fatigue. In a study of immigrant cattle feedyard workers, Ramos et al.  found that increased work hours and decreased decision latitude (among other job-related factors) were directly related to an increased need for recovery and indirectly related to physical and mental fatigue. Also, workers in the AgFF sector are frequently paid by how quickly they work (piece-rate) or the size of the harvest (crew-shares), which can lead to fast-paced work, long hours, and less sleep [Alterman et al. 2018].
AgFF workers consistently experience the highest fatality rate of any sector and they work in dangerous, dynamic workplaces. As such, AgFF workers are disproportionally exposed to an array of traumatic and unpredictable events such as workplace catastrophes, extreme weather events, and climate change, as well as economic trends and trade policies that negatively impact the workforce. Little is known about the relationship of traumatic and unpredictable events on the safety and health of AgFF workers; however, industry and rural health providers see mental health issues and substance-use as an increasingly alarming problem [Inwood et. al. 2019]. Farmers and agriculture workers are occupationally exposed to several risk factors associated with suicide, including ﬁnancial stress, access to lethal means, chronic conditions, isolation, and poor access to mental and health care services [Ringgenberg et al. 2018]. Suicide rates for farmers between 1992 and 2020 were higher than for all occupations in each of the years in the period, and self-employed farmers were over two times more likely to be victims of suicide than homicide compared to those who worked for pay. In a review of substance use disorder in farming, both farmers and farm workers had an overall higher occupational risk for alcohol-related problems, but research on other drugs was lacking, despite the opioid epidemic in the rural United States [Watanabe‐Galloway et al. 2021]. In commercial fishing, a study of opioid-related overdose fatalities in Massachusetts fishing ports during 2000–2014 found commercial fishermen were over four times more likely to die of overdose than non-fishing industry workers in the same communities [Fulmer, Jain, and Kriebel 2021].
AgFF industry, worker, and safety associations frequently discuss long work hours, high stress environments, and poor mental health across the sector. In 2008, the National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA) for AgFF stated fatigue was a “significant safety issue” and is a “cultural norm”. The current NORA for AgFF also described it as an area of concern and includes a priority to explore risk factors for fatigue and to develop interventions [NORA 2018]. Industry and academic partners have noted AgFF workers typically expect and are resigned to long work hours, sleep deprivation, and fatigue as an inevitable and ubiquitous hazard and fatigue training is rare, especially in agriculture and forestry. Likewise, while the sector acknowledges mental health as a key issue, little research exists nationally outside of suicide in farmers. Also, most of the existing work focuses on stress, suicide, and depression, while anxiety, burnout, and healthy coping strategies have been studied less [Hagen et al. 2019]. Also, national surveillance data for mental health outcomes is lacking across the sector, as are interventional and evaluative studies. However, future research and interventions cannot just rely on education, but must also address the economic and structural issues affecting workplace organization, established culture and beliefs, and psychosocial factors that increase risks related to poor mental health, substance use, and workplace fatigue.
Alterman T, Grzywacz JG, Muntaner C, Shen R, Gabbard S, Georges A, Nakamoto J, Carroll DJ . Elevated depressive symptoms among hired crop workers in the United States: variation by sociodemographic and employment characteristics. J Rural Ment Health 42(2):69-88, https://doi.org/10.1037/rmh0000090external icon
Arcury TA, Grzywacz JG, Sidebottom J, Wiggins MF  Overview of immigrant worker occupational health and safety for the agriculture, forestry, and fishing (AgFF) sector in the southeastern United States. Am J Ind Med, 56(8), 911-924.
Arcury TA, Talton JW, Summers P, Chen H, Laurienti PJ, Quandt SA  Alcohol consumption and risk for dependence among male Latino migrant farmworkers compared to Latino nonfarmworkers in North Carolina. Alcohol Clin Exp Res 40(2):377-384.
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BLS [2020b] Incidence rates of nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses by selected industry and case types, private industry, 2018-2019. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, www.bls.gov/web/osh/summ1_00.htmexternal icon and www.bls.gov/web/osh/summ2_00.htmexternal icon.
BLS [2020c] Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries Summary, 2019. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/news.release/cfoi.nr0.htm
BLS [2020d] Current Population Survey, Household Data, Annual Averages, Table 19. Persons at work in agriculture and nonagricultural industries by hours of work. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/cps/aa2019/cpsaat19.htm
CDC  Health equity considerations and racial and ethnic minority groups. Atlanta, GA; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/health-equity/race-ethnicity.html
Elliott K, Lincoln J, Flynn M, Levin J, Smidt, M, Dzugan J, Ramos A  Working hours, sleep, and fatigue in the agriculture, forestry, and fishing sector. Manuscript submitted for publication.
Flynn MA, Eggerth DE, Keller BM, Check P . Reaching “hard to reach” workers: Evaluating approaches to disseminate worker safety information via the Mexican consular network. J Occup Environ Hyg, 18:4-5, 180-191, 10.1080/15459624.2021.1903014external icon
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Fulmer S, Jain S, Kriebel, D  Commercial fishing as an occupational determinant of opioid overdoses and deaths of despair in two Massachusetts fishing ports, 2000–2014. New Solut 22 June Epub, https://doi.org/10.1177/10482911211023476external icon
Garcia GM, de Castro B  Working Conditions, Occupational Injuries, and Health Among Filipino fish processing workers in Dutch Harbor, Alaska. Workplace Health Saf 65(5):219-226.
Hagen BNM, Albright A, Sargeant J, Winder CB, Harper SL, O’Sullivan TL, Jones-Bitton A  Research trends in farmers’ mental health: A scoping review of mental health outcomes and interventions among farming populations worldwide. PLoS One. 14(12):e0225661. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0225661external icon
Helmkamp J, Marsh S, Aitken M  Occupational all-terrain vehicle deaths among workers 18 years and older in the United States, 1992-2007. J Agric Saf Health 17(2): 147-155.
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Johnson A, Baccaglini L, Haynatzki GR, Achutan C, Loomis D, Rautiainen RH  Agricultural injuries among farmers and ranchers in the Central United States during 2011-2015. J Agromed 26(1):62-72. https://doi.org/10.1080/1059924X.2020.1845268external icon
Leigh JP, Marcin JP, Miller TR  An estimate of the US government’s undercount of nonfatal occupational injuries. J Occup Environ Med 46(1):10-18.
Liebman A, Wiggins M, Fraser C, Levin J, Sidebottom J, Arcury, TA  Occupational health policy and immigrant workers in the agriculture, forestry, and fishing sector. Am J Ind Med 56(8):975-84. doi: 10.1002/ajim.22190.
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Orrenius PM, Zavodny M  Do immigrants work in riskier jobs? Demography 46(3), 535-551.
Pena AA  Poverty, legal status, and pay basis: The case of US agriculture. Ind Relat 49(3), 429-456.
Quandt S, Arnold T, Mora D, Sandberg J, Daniel S, Arcury T  Hired Latinx child farm labor in North Carolina: the demand‐support‐control model applied to a vulnerable worker population. Am J Ind Med 62(12), 1079-1090. https://doi.org/10.1002/ajim.23039external icon
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Ringgenberg W, Peek-Asa C, Donham K, Ramirez M  Trends and characteristics of occupational suicide and homicide in farmers and agriculture workers, 1992-2010. J Rural Health 34(3):246-253. https://doi.org/10.1111/jrh.12245external icon
Siqueira C, Gaydos M, Monforton C, Slatin C, Borkowski L, Dooley P, Liebman A, Rosenberg E, Shor G, Keifer M.  Effects of social, economic, and labor policies on occupational health disparities. Am J Ind Med. 57(5):557-72. doi: 10.1002/ajim.22186.
Snipes S, Thompson B, O’Connor K, Godina R, Ibarra, G  Anthropological and psychological merge: design of a stress measure for Mexican farmworkers. Cult Med Psychiatry 31(3): 359-388.
Tarawneh I, Wurzelbacher S, Bertke S  Comparative analyses of workers’ compensation claims of injury among temporary and permanent employed workers in Ohio. Am J Ind Med 63(1), 3-22, http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/ajim.23049external icon
Watanabe‐Galloway S, Chasek C, Yoder A, Bell J  Substance use disorders in the farming population: Scoping review J Rural Health Epub 6 May https://doi.org/10.1111/jrh.12575external icon
Note: Goals 7.16 and 7.17 were added in October 2021