These results are important because they describe the level of work safety climate among farmworkers, a vulnerable worker population, and because they document that work safety climate is associated with health outcomes (musculoskeletal discomfort) and with dangerous work behaviors (working while injured or ill). These Latino farmworkers generally perceived their work safety climate to be poor. Although most reported that safety was important to their employers, they uniformly reported behaviors for their employers, such as not praising working safely and not providing proper safety equipment, which did not reflect a value for safety. Many farmworkers felt that their employers could do more for safety, and over one quarter felt that production was more important than safety for their employers. Almost all expected to be injured at work within a year. Although they used a different version of the worker safety climate scale developed by Gillen et al.,10
Whalley et al. reported similar levels of work safety climate among Latino farmworkers in the same area of North Carolina, and Quandt et al.39
and Grzywacz et al.40
reported similar levels of work safety climate among Latino poultry processing workers in western North Carolina. Using a different scale to measure safety climate,41
Sokas et al.42
reported somewhat higher safety climate among union Latino construction workers who participated in a safety training program.
Work safety climate is important to the occupational health of Latino farmworkers. Those who perceived a less safe climate were at increased risk of experiencing musculoskeletal discomfort. They were also at greater risk of working when injured or ill. Whalley et al.13
found that North Carolina farmworkers with a greater work safety climate practiced a greater number of pesticide safety behaviors. Grzywacz et al.40
presented the only results examining the association of work safety climate with a health outcome among Latino poultry processing workers. They reported that lower perceived safety commitment among Latino poultry processing workers was associated with recent respiratory problems. In other worker populations, the importance of work safety climate for improving safety behavior and decreasing work injury was widely advocated.11
These results are important for improving the occupational health of migrant and seasonal farmworkers, as well as to improve occupational safety across agriculture. Knowledge of work safety climate in agriculture is nascent. Analyses of farmer attitudes indicated that many accepted risk, assumed that safety regulations and procedures were an unnecessary burden, were willing to overlook safety when they believed that production and the economic survival of the enterprise were in jeopardy, and believed that farmworker employees were at little risk for occupational injury.24-27
At the same time, agriculture has one of the highest rates of occupational injury and mortality of all industries in the United States,43
and farmworkers experience exceedingly high rates of occupational injury and illness.3-5
Addressing work safety climate is considered important for improving occupational safety and reducing occupational injury across industries.8,11,44
This analysis builds on this larger research literature to indicate the importance of work safety climate for occupational safety in agriculture, particularly as related to migrant and seasonal farmworkers. Relatively few safety regulations are available to protect agricultural workers because of “agricultural exceptionalism,” the historic practice of excluding farmworkers and other agricultural workers from legal protections benefiting other workers.45
Together with the acceptance of risk among agricultural employers and the perceptions of farmworkers that they must accept unsafe work conditions, the lack of safety regulations in agriculture results in a great concern for farmworker safety.1
Little occupational safety training is required for farmworkers or their employers23
; safety training is 1 component of a safe work climate. For example, the only national occupational safety training required for agricultural workers is for pesticide safety based on the US Environmental Protection Agency Worker Protection Standard.46
Washington and Oregon also require safety training for heat-related illness.47
Because agriculture is a very hazardous industry, additional safety training should be required for workers and for their employers in an effort to improve the work safety climate in agriculture. Such training could be offered through existing agencies, such as county cooperative extension offices or county health departments. Larger corporate agricultural producers often provide this additional safety training, but they employ the minority of farmworkers. However, some large, corporate agricultural producers are also known to ignore safety and other regulations.48
Additional requirements for training should recognize the burdens that might be placed on small agricultural producers and help these small producers comply with these requirements.
The results of this research should be interpreted within its limitations. The study was based on data collected from a small number of farmworkers in 1 area of 1 state; therefore, its generalizability might be limited. The data were cross sectional, and causality could not be established. The interpretation of the results would need to be modified if participants changed employers during the current agricultural seasons. However, although a small sample of farmworkers was recruited for this study, the sample was representative of farmworkers in the southeastern United States.21
This study considered an important occupational health concern, work safety climate, in a population of workers at substantial risk and for which only limited information was available.
Work safety climate is important for the health and safety of workers in general; this analysis showed that it might also be important for workers in agriculture. Additional research on the importance of work safety climate in agriculture is needed in an effort to understand better how the organization of work affects occupational health in agriculture.19
Interventions to improve the work safety climate in agriculture are also needed; although these interventions should be directed to agricultural workers, more importantly, they need to address the attitudes and behaviors of agricultural employers. Finally, existing occupational health and safety regulations for agriculture are extremely limited, they are often ignored, and they do not support a climate of work safety. Review and revision of health and safety policy in agriculture is needed to sustain a climate of work safety.