Gain a Healthy Aptitude

03/16/2014 @ 10:04pm

Steve Licht tries to maintain a healthy lifestyle. He gets regular, year-round exercise in his livestock operation near Ayrshire, Iowa, but admits he could exercise more. The 40-year-old makes an effort to wear dust masks and hearing protection. He’s also a daily user of technology.

Licht may be just the target audience that AgriSafe Network hopes to reach. AgriSafe recently developed the first Agricultural Health Risk Appraisal (AgHRA) tool delivered through a Web-based program. The free AgHRA is aimed at identifying health and safety risks that can be reduced.

As technology has evolved, AgriSafe has looked for ways to help you manage health through a customized assessment.

“Farmers today are very comfortable about accessing information on websites,” says Charlotte Halverson, AgriSafe Network occupational health nurse. “A lot of them don’t see a doctor regularly, and this can be a wake-up call.”

The survey doesn’t diagnose; rather, it suggests specific areas you might want to look into and it alerts you to take risk-appropriate interventions. You can use it to track changes in your risk profile.

The AgHRA can be downloaded onto a laptop, tablet, or desktop computer. (Plans are to add smartphones to the list.)

The risk assessment can be completed in 10 minutes or less. It includes a general health history, including age, height, and weight. More specific questions are asked about ag-related health risks, including hearing, vision, skin cancer, musculoskeletal/ergonomics, respiration, stress and mental health coping, and emergency preparedness.

The AgHRA has been pilot-tested by farmers in Illinois, Iowa, Mississippi, New York, Vermont, and Washington.

Adapted to broad spectrum of farms

The AgHRA provides basic responses to individual health risks. It’s not intended to replace visits to the health care provider or regular screening exams.

“Our ultimate goal is empowering farmers to take control of their health care by identifying their  high risk areas, “ Halverson says. “During a clinical visit they can ask questions that may connect the dots between health conditions and occupational exposures.”

Halverson says that questions on the AgHRA can be adapted to different types of agriculture, including specific questions about hazards and exposures for tobacco, cranberry, fruit, and vegetable growers.

Licht participated in the AgHRA pilot test. He reports that the technology worked well, and it required only about 10 to 15 minutes to complete.

“I consider myself fairly well informed about health and safety, so I’m aware that these situations could arise,” he says. “I see how it could raise red flags for younger people starting out in agriculture, though. It could help them be aware soon enough to do something about it.”

Vali Vargha, 56, a Cooperstown, New York, vegetable grower, also took part in the pilot. “The questions covered all the bases when it comes to hazards, and it’s good to find out right away what needs to be corrected,” he says. “The list of resources is very helpful.”

AgriSafe plans to use the AgHRA, which was funded by a Susan Harwood Training Grant, at fairs and farm shows this year.

To take the AgHRA, visit and click on For information or questions, call 563/590-7749.