Project title: Agricultural Safety and Health: Takeaways from an Internship in Regulatory Compliance
Completed in: 2023 | Faculty advisor: Edward Kasner
Background. It has been estimated that Washington State has more than 30,000 farms that produce over 300 different commodities, many of them picked or processed by hand. Some estimates indicate there are 200,000 agriculture workers, including those who are part of the H-2A visa program. This program allows agricultural employers who anticipate a shortage of domestic workers to bring nonimmigrant foreign workers to the United States to perform agricultural labor or services of a temporary or seasonal nature. In 2021, more than 4 of 100 agricultural workers experienced injuries or illnesses and more than 19 of 100,000 agricultural workers died on the job.
Organization. The Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH) in the Department of Labor and Industries develops and enforces regulations by inspecting job sites for unsafe working conditions. DOSH is motivated to keep up to 3.3 million Washington workers safe, healthy, and secure. As an intern, I was assigned to Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act/Occupational Safety and Health Administration (WISHA/OSHA) Region 10, which was established to focus on the agriculture industry throughout the state.
Activities and Products. My summer internship lasted a total of 11 weeks, and I was able to witness at least 25 inspections. I was mostly inspecting sites in Yakima County but also Benton, Franklin, Lewis, and Kittitas. I was asked to read and understand key WISHA policies related to the agriculture sector: rollover protection structures (ROPS), field sanitation, heat, confined space, lock out tag out, central notification boards, safety data sheets. For my overall experience, I learned the most about two major hazards in agriculture: noise and heat.
Workplace Process Method. The workplace process that I decided to focus on for this report was noise sampling. In the report I provide: (1) a detailed description of noise sampling for compliance and worst-case scenarios in Washington, (2)a review of current literature related to noise sampling for distribution and exposure variability, (3) a comparison of noise sampling for compliance versus distribution through the lens of the hierarchy of controls, and (4) recommendations for improvements through the lens of the socio-ecological model.
Summary. My experience leading up to the internship provided a solid foundation for launching a career in industrial hygiene. I spent the last two years of my undergraduate career working on the Heat Education and Awareness Tools (HEAT) project with the Pacific Northwest Agricultural Safety and Health Center. The second experience that led me into the industrial hygiene field was when I landed an internship with Northwest Communities and Education Center (NCEC) and Radio KDNA that focused on an outreach campaign for farmworkers about COVID-19. Through years of hard work, countless study hours, relationship building, and hands-on learning experiences, my mind and heart feel happy and energized about what the future holds in this career. I am driven to continue working toward decreasing injury and disease in the agriculture industry.