Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Research: Farmer resistance to safety research

The Journal of Rural Studies recently published an interesting paper entitled “Public Health Science in Agriculture: Farmers’ Perspectives on Respiratory Protection Research”. This article explores how Texas-based poultry producers view occupational health and safety research in order to assess why producers are resistant to public health research recommendations about health and safety.

Among the explanations offered by producers was a lack of trust that the research being done and the recommendations flowing from it would be in the best interests of producers. Producers identified reducing costs and increasing productivity as being desirable. Producers also identified skepticism about researchers’ knowledge of the practice of farming.

Some farmers also expressed fear that the research would result in recommendations that would reduce their profitability or would endanger their relationship with the companies to which they supply poultry. Some producers also indicated skepticism about the need for research on safety, noting that they already knew about the dangers posed by their work:
Finally, growers question the basic scientific merit of research related to improving the use of respiratory protection in their poultry barns. The research does not appear to be based in the producers’ best economic interests, therefore it is also scientifically suspect. Despite the body of research that indicates an increased risk for lung disease among animal production workers and associated inhalation exposures in chicken production with pulmonary symptoms among workers, respondents in this study suggest that their farms are not particularly dangerous and their current precautions are sufficient. (p. 7)
What this suggests is that low respirator usage rates does not reflect ignorance of workplace hazards, but rather a rejection of scientific recommendations (that potentially undercut productivity) in preference for folk wisdom (that happen to align with the profit imperative) about OHS. This preference, in turn, helps explain why education-only approaches to farm OHS are largely ineffective.

It will be interesting to see what kinds of farm OHS programming and requirements Alberta will implement coming out of the Bill 6 working groups (which, according to scuttlebutt, indicated a heavy preference for educational programs).

-- Bob Barnetson

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