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Age, Neurological Symptoms Linked To Injuries In Farmers

February 01, 1999

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- New research suggests that certain factors -- such as age and neurological symptoms -- play significant role in the risk of injuries to farmers.

Researchers from Ohio State University found a higher risk of injury among farmers younger than 30 and those who reported symptoms associated with neurotoxicity, such as difficulty concentrating. Although this study didn't specifically address this issue, exposure to certain pesticides could be responsible for neurologic symptoms in some farmers.

"Frequent exposure to many of the chemicals used on farms may affect hand-eye coordination, judgment or other forms of neuromotor control that, in turn, may influence injury risk," said Mac Crawford, co-author of the study and research associate in the School of Public Health at Ohio State.

The study appears in a recent issue of the American Journal of Industrial Medicine.

Crawford and his colleagues studied 1,565 white males who worked on Ohio cash- grain farms. Farmers were asked questions about farm operation, personal habits, health and if they or anyone else living or working on the farm had had an injury during the past year that required medical attention or required them to cut down on normal activities for more than half a day.

The results showed that 90 subjects reported on-the-job injuries. The remaining 1,475 subjects were used as controls.

Findings showed that 32 percent of the injuries were associated with farm equipment while 29 percent were the result of overexertion or straining. Thirty- seven percent of the farmers reported their injuries were sprains and strains, while 17 percent reported open wound injuries.

The risk of injury seemed to be strongly tied to age, with the greatest risk among farmers younger than 30. Other studies have suggested that the highest risk of nonfatal injury happens among younger farmers.

"Younger farmers may work longer hours than older farmers, exposing them to a higher risk of injury," said Jay Wilkins, study co-author and associate professor of public health at Ohio State. "Also, younger farmers may have less experience than their older counterparts, which might increase risk of injury."

The researchers also found a potential correlation between symptoms of neurotoxicity -- or chemical exposure -- and injury risk. Part of the questionnaire dealt with neurological symptoms, such as difficulty concentrating, confusion or disorientation. Farmers who scored highest on a measure of neurological symptoms were nearly three times more likely to have been injured than farmers who scored lowest on the measure.

"We can't say for sure based on this study that a causal relationship exists between pesticides and injury," Crawford said. "But there is evidence that people who are functioning more poorly neurologically are at greater risk for injury."

While it's difficult to generalize the results of this study to all American farmers because it was limited to white male cash-grain farmers in Ohio, Crawford said many of their counterparts in dairy, beef, produce and other farming operations face the same or similar risks.

Other study co-authors included Lynn Mitchell, consulting research statistician; Melvin Moeschberger, professor; and Lisa Jones, senior statistician, all of the School of Public Health at Ohio State; and Thomas Bean, professor of food, agricultural and biological engineering at Ohio State.

This study was sponsored by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
Written by Holly Wagner, 614-292-8310;

Ohio State University

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