Advancing Farmworker Health and Safety Through an Inclusive Lens

Posted on Tuesday, November 8th, 2022 by
Photo from UC Davis Western Center for Agricultural Health and Safety

As part of CalCAN’s efforts to center farmworker voices and experiences, we are excited to highlight The Western Center for Agricultural Health and Safety (WCAHS). Its crucial work focuses on the occupational health and safety of those working in agriculture by conducting multidisciplinary research projects, outreach programs, and interventions. The Center is located at the University of California, Davis, and serves the western region, including Arizona, California, Hawaii, and Nevada. 

The center is one of 12 agricultural health and safety centers in the United States, which were established by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the ​​Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to address hazards and protect the health and well-being of workers in agriculture. 

Promoting Agricultural Labor Safety 

Agriculture is one of the most dangerous industries in the United States. Western agriculture is one of the nation’s most intensive and productive and is characterized by labor-intensive, specialty crops. Farmworkers may experience compounding hazards due to increases in heat-related illness, wildfire smoke exposure, pesticide exposure, and more. To promote evidence-based solutions, the Center works to understand illnesses and injuries through a collaborative and cross-organizational approach between centers, researchers, academics, agricultural communities, and industry specialists.

Photo credit: Joe Proudman, UC Davis
Photo credit: Joe Proudman, UC Davis

WCAHS staff develop practical tools and solutions to create real-life best practices for agricultural employers and workers, such as heat-related illness training resources to assist employers with meeting the training requirement mandated by the Cal/OSHA heat standard and to help workers understand their rights under the law. The Center is able to develop these positive impacts through a range of funding and community and industry partnerships. 

The Center has invested over 30 years in building relationships with farming communities and organizations that directly serve farmworkers’ needs, which is one of the reasons they are so successful in disseminating research and knowledge. One of the Center’s priorities is the much-needed inclusivity of immigrant farmworkers’ health and safety in California’s agriculture labor. Its outreach program offers free training and resources in a growing list of languages spoken by workers.

Some forms of communication that the center utilizes are educational materials, policy information, blogs, and training resources

Photo from the Heat Illness Prevention Accordion Pocket Card, UC Davis Western Center for Agricultural Health and Safety

For the past two years, the Center has led the COVID-19 Statewide Agriculture & Farmworker Education (SAFE) Program with funding from the California Labor & Workforce Development Agency (LWDA).

The goals of the SAFE Program were to build capacity among community-based organizations (CBOs) and agricultural employers to promote workplace safety, expand and strengthen COVID-19 knowledge, and increase prevention behaviors among farm workers.

The SAFE Program received an additional year of funding from the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) to continue COVID-19 outreach and training with community and industry partners through June 2023.

Read more about this project here.


WCAHS funds a variety of projects that conduct research and evaluation related to agricultural health and safety risks and interventions, including five-year core research projects, emerging issues, and small grant programs

The following is a sample of some of these five-year research projects that have been completed:

Differential Characterization of Air Pollutant Emissions and Associated Toxicity from Common Agricultural Practices in the San Joaquin Valley

Kent E. Pinkerton, Ph.D., School of Medicine and School of Veterinary Medicine, and Keith Bein, Ph.D., UC Davis 

This project aims to measure the relative toxicity of agriculturally related dust and particulate matter (PM) pollution, alone and in combination with wildfire smoke, as a means to protect and improve farmworker health through training, education, translation of research, and outreach. 

Studies on the impact of wildfire smoke in the agricultural setting have resulted in the creation of a checklist and guidelines for the health and safety training of farm workers.

Heat Illness Prevention in Farmworkers: Translation of Economic, Socio-Cultural, and Physiological Factors into Effective Interventions

Marc Schenker, MD, MPH, School of Medicine, UC Davis

Despite major campaigns to reduce heat-related illness in agricultural workers, deaths and illnesses still occur at higher rates than in other industries where workers are exposed to hot environments.

This project engages farm organizations and workers in a collaborative effort to better understand and address the complexities of heat-related illness.

Participatory heat-related illness prevention training materials were developed, including discussion guides, visual aids, and a pocket-sized information card for farm workers. In addition, a ‘Tips for Trainers’ guide was created as supervisors consistently noted the usefulness of concrete suggestions for training their workers. 

Small Grant Program:

The Effects of Air Quality on Economics of Farm Worker Productivity

Daniel A. Sumner, Ph.D., UC Davis

Agricultural Worker Exposure to Wildfire Smoke Pollution in California During the 2020 Fire Season 

Miriam E. Marlier, Ph.D., UCLA Fielding School of Public Health

Understanding COVID-19 Testing and Vaccine Access for Daytime Farmworkers in Imperial County

Adrianne (Annie) Keeney, Ph.D., San Diego State University

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