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It's all about Safety

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When I first heard about the Noble Research Institute's Lloyd Noble Scholar in Agriculture program, I was skeptical about moving to a small city. But with what I know now, I shouldn't have been. This experience is one of the first opportunities I've had to establish a professional reputation and gain hands-on experience in health and safety issues commonly encountered in agriculture. And it has made me love the beauty and joy of living in small cities. The people are so nice and friendly, and I wasted no time embracing this region.

My first project was to attend the 2014 Oklahoma Health and Safety Conference in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with my supervisor, Robert Williams. The conference trained safety professionals on how to promote adoption of safety, health, and environmental practices and procedures that prevent and mitigate human suffering and economic loss. After the conference, I got hands-on experience with creating worker protection programs and safety protocols on pesticide use, heat-related illnesses and workplace-related musculoskeletal disorders; conducting farm audits; inspecting various workplaces; and delivering job site safety presentations and trainings.

As part of my initiative, the safety department and the communication team have now introduced "Safety Matters" as a reoccurring element of Ag News and Views, a monthly publication of the Noble Research Institute's Agricultural Division, where views, ideas and issues on workplace health and safety will be shared. The first safety article, Safety practices ensure safe mowing, was published in the July edition.

Due to the collaborative nature of my time as a scholar, I also worked with the University of Texas Health Science Southwest Ag Center in Tyler, Texas. Their mission is to reduce injuries and fatalities to agriculture, forestry and fishing workers in the Southwest, which includes Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, New Mexico and Arkansas. The center connected me to professionals who conduct research and outreach within agricultural safety and health. I did literature reviews on various research projects for the principal investigators. I wrote safety articles for the center, which reaches 1,500 people including farmers, ranchers, foresters, loggers, extension agents and agriculture teachers. In June, I traveled to Tyler, Texas, to attend the biennial Occupational and Environmental Conference hosted by the University of Texas Health Northeast. At the conference, I was able to network with leaders in the field of occupational health, including Kay Kreiss from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

This internship experience has provided me with a greater understanding of workplace health and safety, and it has familiarized me with how to evaluate and measure occupational and environmental exposures to hazardous and infectious agents in an agricultural setting. It has also continued to teach me how to effectively communicate exposure risks to workers/employees without evoking fear.

Without this program, I would still be unsure of my ambitions to become an environmental and occupational safety specialist. Now, I feel my reasoning for becoming a public health practitioner has been empowered through this hands-on experience in a non-profit organization.

Ugochukwu Uzoeghelu is a 2014 Lloyd Noble Scholar in Agriculture from Fort Worth, Texas.