Farmers in child-bearing years face unique set of health and safety challenges

Published 12:00 pm Thursday, March 24, 2022

While the number of women counted as principal farm operators has increased across the U.S., so has their exposure to unique risks associated with agricultural work that can impact fertility, pregnancy and infant health.

As women are playing a significant role across the spectrum of agricultural activities, pregnancy and fertility are often not considered when they assume farm tasks, said Knesha Rose-Davison, public health program director for AgriSafe Network, a nonprofit organization that addresses occupational health issues in the agricultural community. Exposures to chemicals, gases and zoonotic diseases, particularly during childbearing years, present challenges.

“You wake up, your feet hit the ground, and you are doing any number of things,” Rose-Davison said in a recent webinar geared toward female farmers and farmworkers called “What to Expect While Expecting.”

She added that “a range of farm activities compound the problem of assuring a safe work site for farm women, and that establishes a need for more safety-based training.”

During the webinar, participants learned to identify exposure risks and reproductive health and safety issues during preconception, pregnancy and postpartum. Exposure to specific crop chemicals, gases, animal production hormones and disease agents may cause fertility problems or pregnancy loss.

Rose-Davison shared how to mitigate those risks. Gloves, safety goggles, splash aprons and respirators should be on the safety checklist.

“When working with any kind of chemicals, it’s important to read the labels, know what personal protective equipment is available, and to know what the risks are,” she said.

Craig County beef cattle farmer Jeannie Layton-Dudding, who represents her county as part of District 4 on the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation board of directors, echoed that advice.

“Label is the law!” she said.

When incorporating artificial insemination into her family’s cow-calf operation, Layton-Dudding said she always uses extreme caution when handling certain hormone products.

But sometimes, the best precaution is having someone else do the job.

“I know that’s a challenge, because small operations rely on multiple people to do multiple tasks,” Rose-Davison said. “But if possible, try to manage the safety of that farm worker.”

Visit bit.ly/33IzI06 to learn more about the AgriSafe presentation.