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Occupational Health Policy and Immigrant Workers in the Agriculture, Forestry, and Fishing Sector

By Amy K. Liebman, MPA, MA, Melinda F. Wiggins, MTS, Clermont Fraser, JD, Jeffrey Levin, MD, MSPH, Jill Sidebottom, PhD, and Thomas A. Arcury, PhD

Background Immigrant workers make up an important portion of the hired workforce inthe Agricultural, Forestry and Fishing (AgFF) sector, one of the most hazardous industrysectors in the US. Despite the inherent dangers associated with this sector, workerprotection is limited.

Methods This article describes the current occupational health and safety policies andregulatory standards in theAgFF sector and underscores the regulatory exceptions and limitationsin worker protections. Immigration policies and their effects on worker health and safety arealso discussed. Emphasis is placed on policies and practices in the Southeastern US.

Results Worker protection in the AgFF sector is limited. Regulatory protections are generallyweaker than other industrial sectors and enforcement of existing regulations is woefullyinadequate. The vulnerability of the AgFF workforce is magnified by worker immigrationstatus. Agricultural workers in particular are affected by a long history of “exceptionalism”under the law as many regulatory protections specifically exclude this workforce.

Conclusions A vulnerable workforce and high-hazard industries require regulatoryprotections that, at a minimum, are provided to workers in other industries. A systematicpolicy approach to strengthen occupational safety and health in the AgFF sector mustaddress both immigration policy and worker protection regulations.

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