Ag leaders embrace 'culture of safety' at 2013 summit
The North American Agricultural Safety Summit produced major safety funding announcements and stimulated collaboration for safer work environments for the men, women and children who produce our food.
The event, conducted Sept. 25 to 27 in Minneapolis, was hosted by the industry-led Agricultural Safety and Health Council of America. It drew more than 250 attendees from 10 nations, including farmers, ranchers, migrant worker advocates, safety experts, engineers, media, physicians and government representatives. The summit featured 14 sponsor and 33 partner organizations.
“We challenged our agricultural community to think more broadly about the issues of agricultural health and safety,” said William Nelson, ASHCA chair and vice president, corporate citizenship, CHS, Inc. “And we challenged our colleagues who are already deeply involved in ag safety to participate in this conversation, and to perhaps come away with an enhanced appreciation for the practical considerations of production agriculture.”
If the agriculture industry is going to feed 9 billion people, the projected world population by 2050, then it should care enough to do it safely, humanely and sustainably, Nelson said.
“The summit helped us to reach out to underserved populations, such as migrant farmworkers, and helped us define opportunities to work in common purpose with the more established agricultural community,” Nelson said.
Summit sponsor CHS, a Fortune 100 farmer-owned agribusiness, was one of two key organizations that chose the summit for major announcements.
CHS President and chief executive officer Carl Casale committed $3 million to a national agricultural safety initiative intended to keep the next generation safe as it feeds a growing world population.
Ann Bartuska, U.S. Department of Agriculture undersecretary for research, education and economics, announced USDA has earmarked $600,000 to make safety training available for youth working in production agriculture.
ASHCA, established in 2007, is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization. Its maturation was noted by John Howard, director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health: “To see ASHCA blossom and thrive like this is wonderful and NIOSH thanks you for including us as a partner. Our goals are the same—we want the agricultural workforce to be the safest and healthiest in the world.”
Comments from the summit reflected themes of corporate social responsibility, sharing safety “best practices,” and instilling a culture of safety.
“A business that is successful long-term does what is morally and ethically right as well as what is legally right,” said Frank Gasperini, executive director, National Council of Agricultural Employers. “Safety is not a program or a project or booklet. It is a culture.”
Many speakers shared personal stories of agricultural injury and death. Carl Casale noted that 5 of 17 CHS board members are missing a finger.
“We in agriculture are being called on to produce more and do it faster. And that means even more risk for more people,” Casale said. “An average consideration for safety is not going to get the job done.”
As ASHCA works with stakeholders to improve safety, it took time to honor three individuals upon whose work it builds. U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa, accepted a Lifetime Achievement award with a videotaped message played during the ASHCA awards luncheon. Harkin worked with Senate colleagues in the early 1990s to expand the federal focus on agricultural safety and health.
“You have a tremendous opportunity…to make a lasting impact on the safety and health of those who produce our food,” Harkin told the awards luncheon audience.
In addition, ASHCA presented “distinguished service” awards to Dean Emanuel, M.D., medical director emeritus of the National Farm Medicine Center at Marshfield (Wis.) Clinic, and to Canadian agromedicine pioneer James Dosman, M.D., Canadian Centre for Health and Safety in Agriculture, University of Saskatchewan.
More than 80 speakers made presentations at the summit. Many of them submitted abstracts and manuscripts that will be peer-reviewed and published in the April 2014 issue of the Journal of Agromedicine.
For complete information on the summit, including bios on more than 80 speakers and listings of all sponsors and partners, go to the official summit program,
To learn about ASHCA membership packages for individuals and organizations, visit www.ashca.org.