Department of Public Health Sciences

The health of farm workers--so much different, so much the same [editorial]

Schenker, M.

S Afr Med J. 1998. 88(9):1091-1092.

Occupational health hazards of agricultural workers have been recognized since the 16th century, but despite the early recognition of these hazards, agriculture has lagged behind other industries in improving workplace health and safety. Measured by both fatal and non-fatal occupational injuries, agriculture is one of the two or three most hazardous major occupations. However, injuries are only the tip of the iceberg; the health hazards of agriculture extend to almost every organ system, with documented risks of the respiratory, cardiovascular, dermatological, psychological, neurological, urological, musculoskeletal and reproductive systems, in addition to communicable and malignant diseases. Both owners (farmers, managers) and farm workers are exposed to substantial risks of injury and illness in agricultural work, which is not the case in most industries. Nevertheless, efforts to improve health and safety in agriculture have been limited by numerous factors. These include the perception that farmers are healthier than the general population (the ‘agrarian myth’), the widely dispersed nature of farming, the lack of unions among agricultural workers, the absence of occupational health and preventive medicine programs in agricultural areas, and the perception among some farmers that hazards are inevitable in agricultural work.

Keywords: Accidents, Occupational, Agricultural Workers' Diseases/epidemiology/*etiology, *Agriculture, *Health Status, Human, South Africa/epidemiology, Transients and Migrants



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