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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Kentucky Researchers Ask: “Why Do Farmers Resist Safe Farm Practices?”

Why do generations of farmers tolerate the high-risk work of agricultural work and resist safe farm practices? University of Kentucky College of Public Health researchers have sought to answer this question and others in a study presenting an analysis inspired by empirical data from studies conducted from 1993 to 2012 on the differing effects of farm safety interventions between participants who live or work on farms and those who don’t, when both were learning to be farm safety advocates. The researchers found that both groups showed statistically significant gains in knowledge and behavioral change proxy measures. However, non-farm participants’ gains consistently outstripped their live/work farm counterparts.

The findings were published in the paper “A socio-cognitive strategy to address farmers’ tolerance of high risk work: Disrupting the effects of apprenticeship of observation,” which appeared in the February 2017 issue of the Journal of Safety Research. The authors are Dr. Joan Mazur and Ms. Susan Westneat, both of the Southeast Center for Agricultural Health and Injury Prevention.


Drawing on socio-cultural perspectives, a grounded theory qualitative analysis focused on identifying useful constructs to understand the farmers’ resistance to adopt safety practices.


Understanding apprenticeships of observation and its relation to experiential learning over time can expose sources of deeply anchored beliefs and how they operate insidiously to promote familiar, albeit unsafe farming practices. The challenge for intervention-prevention programs becomes how to disrupt what has been learned during these apprenticeships of observation and to address what has been obscured during this powerful socialization process.


Implications focus on the design and implementation of farm safety prevention and education programs. First, farm safety advocates and prevention researchers need to attend to demographics and explicitly explore the prior experiences and background of safety program participants. Second, farm youth in particular need to explore, explicitly, their own apprenticeships of observations, preferably through the use of new social media and or digital forms of expression, resulting in a story repair process. Third, careful study of the organization of work and farm experiences and practices need to provide the foundations for intervention programs. Finally, it is crucial that farm safety programs understand apprenticeships of observation are generational and ongoing over time, and interventions prevention programs need to be ‘in it’ for the long haul.