The Federally-Funded Northeast Center For Occupational Safety And Health For Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing (NEC) Provides Farmers With Important Resources, Like Special 1-800 Safety Number, Access To Farm Safety Experts and Information On Next-Gen Farm Safety Equipment Like Rollover Bars; But NEC’s Funding Would Be Severely Cut Under Proposed Budget

NEC’s Research Led To National ROPS -- Rollover Bar -- Rebate Program, And Senator Says Slashing Its Funding Could Put The Life-Saving Program At Risk, Along With The Development Of Other New Safety Solutions 

Schumer: Eliminating Farm Safety Program Puts Farmers’ And Farm Workers’ Safety At Greater Risk   

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer today launched a major effort to protect funding for the Northeast Center For Occupational Safety And Health For Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing (NEC), which administers critical farm safety programs for New York’s Southern Tier and farm workers throughout Upstate New York. One example of this important work is the National Rollover Protection System (ROPS) Rebate Program. NEC’s research led to this life-saving rebate program which provides critical information to farmers on how to find and install the right rollover bar for their machinery and provides rebates to farmers to cover approximately 70 percent of the cost for a farmer to install a ROPS roll bar retrofit kit on their tractor. Schumer pointed to data that says farm-related deaths are 800 percent higher than many other industries, and that tractor overturns are the most frequent cause of deaths on farms, at a rate of 96 cases per year. For this reason, Schumer vowed to fight and tooth and nail to reverse this proposed funding cut that delivers continued research and administration of life-saving programs like these.‎

“Keeping family farmers and farm workers who operate dangerous machinery safe should be a priority for us all. That is why I am urging my colleagues in Congress to reverse these harmful proposed cuts and restore funding for critical farm safety programs and research,” said Senator Schumer. “The work done by organizations like the NEC is exactly the type of work the federal government should be investing in: it’s cost-effective, informed by real industry experts, and helps save farmers’ lives every day. By slashing funding to this life-saving organization, we jeopardize successful programs that are providing critical resources to farmers, like a 1-800 safety hot-line number and on the ground experts in rural communities, so farmers can access the ROPS Rebate Program, which helps farmers correctly install rollover bars on their tractors just in case the tractor flips over. We need to do everything possible to make sure we are investing in developing new safety solutions for our farmers and growers and I will be doing everything possible to make sure this program which puts farmers first is protected.”

Schumer explained that the administration’s proposed 2018 budget would severely cut funding for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), a branch of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that conducts research, by over 40%. This cut is significant because the funding that is threatened supports research in regional and community-based programs for farm safety, such as the Northeast Center For Occupational Safety And Health For Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing (NEC). The NEC, which is an affiliate of Bassett Health, serves a twelve-state region and is headquartered in Cooperstown, NY. From Maine through West Virginia, NEC promotes health and safety research, education, and prevention activities in the high-risk areas of farming, commercial fishing, and logging. With fatality rates in the agricultural industry up to 800 percent higher than many other industries, Schumer said the work NEC does is critical to the safety of Upstate New York’s farmers and farm workers and the loss of this crucial funding would hurt NEC’s ability to research innovative ways to protect farmers now and in the future.

An example of the importance of NEC’s work is the development and expansion of the National Rollover Protective Structures (ROPS) Rebate Program. Tractor rollovers are the No. 1 cause of farm-related injury and death, resulting in an average of 96 deaths per year. In fatal instances, the cost of an overturn could reach nearly $1 million and nearly 7 out of 10 farms go out of business within five years of an accident. There have been seven rollover fatalities reported in neighboring Steuben County since 1996. Tragically, in 2014 a farmer in the Town of Canisteo in Steuben County was killed after his tractor overturned while he was operating it on his farm.  In 2010 a farm worker lost his life in Urbana, in a similar instance involving a tractor.

In response to this hazardous environment, the NEC launched an effort to create the life-saving ROPS Rebate Program, which covers approximately 70% of the cost for a farmer to install a ROPS rollbar kit on their tractor.  In most cases, this means farmers only pay $500 or less for this life-saving equipment that can otherwise cost up to $1,200. NEC also provides information to farmers on how to find and install the right rollover bar. Since its inception in 2006, the NEC reports that more than 2,150 tractors have been retrofitted with protective structures in seven states, with more than 1,500 of those retrofits occurring in New York State alone. The program has also been extremely popular in Chemung, Schuyler, and Steuben Counties, with 91 farmers retrofitting their tractors with ROPS rollbar kits.  Additionally, feedback from users has been extremely positive, with participants in New York reporting 221 close calls and 19 serious incidents in which death or injury was likely without protective structures.

Standing at Sawmill Creek Vineyards, a Schuyler County-based vineyard in Hector NY that has heavily utilized and benefited from this program, Schumer highlighted that the NEC relies on this federal funding to administer the National ROPS tractor rollover bar rebate program which supports local jobs.  Sawmill Creek Vineyards contains some of the steepest lands in the area and the ROPS program has helped keep their farm workers safe.  Schumer said in this way the ROPS program funding is a win-win-win: it helps farmers upgrade their tractors, it saves lives, and it helps produce more of the high-quality wine that New York is known for.

Schumer said that what makes this program so effective is that it is supported by the National Tractor Safety Council, an organization with representation from nearly 60 multi-sector industry and advocacy groups. Schumer added that by slashing funding for the NEC, we are not only putting this life-saving program at risk, but future development of new safety solutions will also be at risk.

Schumer vowed to fight to reverse proposed NIOSH-CDC budget cuts so that the NEC can continue its valuable work with the ROPS Rebate Program and other initiatives that enhance the health and safety of agriculture, forestry and fishing workers in New York and across the country. 

The NEC has been identified by the federal government as one of ten agricultural centers across the country. They partner with government agencies, hospitals, manufacturers, family farms, and industry professionals to identify and prioritize occupational injury and fatality patterns, conduct research on how best to address these hazards, and work to make safety practices more cost-effective and accessible to thousands of agriculture, forestry, and fishing workers throughout the Northeast. According to NEC, half of their staff was raised or currently lives on farms and they remain deeply rooted in the farm community.

Schumer was joined by Tina Hazlitt, Owner of Sawmill Creek Vineyards, Phil Cherry, Executive Director of the Schuyler County Cornell Cooperative Extension, Judy Cherry, Executive Director of the Schuyler County Partnership for Economic Development, representatives from ROPS supplier Monroe Tractor in Horseheads, and representatives from the NEC

“Although the elimination of this program would obviously negatively impact the health and safety of farmers and their workers, it’s a particularly frustrating decision, given the increasing pressure farmers are under to eliminate hazards from a naturally hazardous industry. Our NIOSH funded program offers farmers expertise, on- farm training and safety assistance programs like the ROPS program all of which make safety changes easier and cost-effective for farmers. Eliminating programs like ours would leave only one solution for reducing occupational fatalities and injuries, OSHA and regulation.” – Dr. Julie Sorensen, Director of the NEC.

“The NIOSH funding is critical to promoting farm safety and improving working conditions on farms across New York. The New York Center for Agricultural Medicine and Health, through the assistance of Northeast Center for Occupational Health and Safety, has made important strides in our area through educational training and cost sharing for safety equipment, including the ROPS program.  Cutting funding is not the answer to making our farms safer for farmers and employees alike. We truly appreciate Senator’s Schumer support on this issue.” – Lindsay Wickham, Farm Bureau Region 4 Area Field Advisor


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