- Harvest of Hazards: Family Farming, Accidents, and Expertise in the Corn Belt, 1940–1975 by Derek S. Oden
By Derek S. Oden. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2017. ix + 244 pp. Illustrations, notes, index. $65.00 paper.
The story of farming in the United States has always been a story of tension. Tension between productivity and environmental impact, progress and nostalgia, oversight and autonomy. Derek S. Oden explores these tensions through the lens of the farm safety movement in the Midwest during the mid-1900s. Drawing from diverse sources, including published and unpublished reports, conference papers, and newspaper articles as well as interviews with farmers and farm safety advocates, Oden teases out some of the most interesting and long-enduring tensions of the farm safety movement. Rooted in the increasing emphasis on “expertise” in American society, coupled with the push to enhance both farm production and safety during World War II, Oden traces the development of the farm safety advocate from an unknown entity to a professional associated [End Page 242] with public health science. In doing so, he illuminates the contradictions and difficulties faced by the farm safety movement, which has remained largely outside the broader policy structures in agriculture.
Oden spends considerable time outlining the numerous hazards on American farms. Large equipment responsible for crushing and entanglement injuries, electrocution, fire hazards, livestock, and the natural elements were, and are, significant safety concerns. In many ways, very little has changed over time; agriculture remains one of the most dangerous industries in which to work despite many advances in technology. For example, although farmers are now less likely to lose a hand or limb in a corn picker, largely thanks to the widespread adoption of the combine, they are still at high risk of dying as a result of a tractor overturn.
Ultimately, Oden suggests that as equipment manufacturers, input dealers, lenders, and others in agricultural support industries became more specialized and siloed in their own fields, so did safety personnel. While the safety movement began as a collaborative and cooperative set of interested parties, it slowly became discordant and somewhat isolated. Disagreements arose between agricultural engineers about the role of equipment manufacturers and safety. Others disagreed about the appropriate role of regulation and oversight. The agricultural safety and health profession has become one part of a complicated network of agricultural support. Unfortunately, their field is also less supported by regulatory policy, limiting their message to distribution via voluntary education rather than the requirements typical in other industries. Oden stops short of suggesting that the farm safety movement has been for naught, but his detailed account of the challenges it faced suggests a continued uphill climb.
Safety and Health
University of Iowa