What's more, some students selected for
the new ag safety and health program will receive a stipend or
"In order to be effective in bringing
down the high illness, injury and death rate farm people experience,
ag professionals need to have a better appreciation of where the
risk is and how you evaluate it to make changes that reduce the
risk," said Bob Aherin, a professor of agricultural engineering and
an ag and safety specialist at the U of I.
Many people believe that good
old-fashioned common sense is all that's required to prevent
accidents, but that's not really true, Aherin said. Agricultural
safety is a complicated area.
"There are several key elements
involved in an agricultural incident," said Aherin. "The first is
the human element. What is a person's perception of the risk at
hand, and what are they willing to do to minimize or eliminate that
A second element is what Aherin terms
"agents" that cause injuries. "Workers need to understand the safety
issues associated with the equipment they use, the processes they
employ, the animals they handle and the facilities they use. The
focus here is to understand how to guard, or redesign, a hazard to
eliminate or minimize the risk involved with it."
A third element is environmental. For
example, how do people deal with working in the heat, working at
night or working under adverse weather conditions?
To teach students how to evaluate all
of these elements, Aherin and his colleagues have put together what
is called an emphasis area in ag safety and health. At the core of
this program are three 300-level courses that can be taken by upper
level undergraduates or graduate students.
The first course focuses on
agricultural injuries, the second on agricultural illnesses and
diseases, and the third teaches agricultural safety systems
"The third course goes a little deeper
for students," said Aherin, "teaching them how to evaluate safety
from a systems standpoint, whether it's analysis of human behavior,
a machine or an environment." At least one of the other courses, on
injury or illness, is a prerequisite to the systems analysis course.
Students may also complete an
individualized special projects course, and there are more than a
dozen other courses offered from a variety of colleges in the
university that will support the study of ag safety. These are 100-,
200- or 300-level courses and include such topics as industrial
safety, behavioral psychology and community health.
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For graduate students with a real
interest in ag safety, who are willing to commit to four or more
courses in this area and preferably focus their thesis topic on an
ag safety issue, Aherin can offer a traineeship with a stipend of
approximately $800 per month and $2,200 to assist with tuition and
fees each year.
Undergraduates who are willing to
complete at least two of the three core ag safety classes, as well
as a special project or a related course, may receive $500 toward
tuition and fee reimbursement for each course they take. Depending
on the number of courses taken, Aherin's funding can support
anywhere from seven to nine students.
Because funding is limited, Aherin must
select students who have an agricultural background, are planning a
career in agriculture or a related field such as rural health care,
and will have an impact in the area of ag safety and health.
The National Institute for Occupational
Safety and Health provides much of the funding for this work through
a special grant focusing on agriculture. The grant is administered
through the U of I's School of Public Health in Chicago.
In addition to the agriculture program
at the U of I in Urbana, the National Institute for Occupational
Safety and Health funds similar programs for students in Chicago in
industrial hygiene, occupational medicine and occupational nursing.
Trainees in Urbana travel to Chicago several times a year to
interact with the trainees there.
For Aherin, the next step is to
establish a special emphasis certification in ag safety and health
at the university. This should be available by the fall of 2004 and
will be a helpful tool when graduates are seeking employment.
Aherin noted, "A random sample of 298
agricultural and rural health employers were surveyed to assess the
types of ag safety and health knowledge they would like to see
students acquire. Of the 119 employers who responded, 84 percent
indicated that some academic training in ag safety and health would
be desirable in future employees.
who are going to work professionally in the agricultural industry
need some technical background," Aherin concluded. "They need to
understand safety and health issues, because we know they'll have
opportunities in their careers to make a difference in reducing
of Illinois news release]