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Project Details

Health and Safety Education for Forest Workers

forest workers removing brush
Project Summary: 

This project targets forest conservation workers who engage in manual labor to develop, maintain, or protect forested areas, including planting trees, pest control, and thinning and cutting brush and small trees. Forest workers face many hazards on the job including falling trees and branches, chain saw injuries, falling while working on slippery, uneven terrain, heat stress, exposure to gasoline (direct skin contact with the liquid as well as inhalation of the fumes), vehicular accidents during transportation to and from the work site, musculoskeletal disorders due to carrying heavy loads for long hours, and many other dangers.

Although a few contractors provide safety training to their workers, most workers do not receive any training. Most workers do not know their rights. They are unaware of the laws entitling them to a safe work place and to medical care if they are injured. Many workers tell of delaying treatment for injuries on the job, and of tremendous difficulties in navigating the workers' compensation system. With current shifts in U.S. immigration policy, agencies in the Northwest are anticipating an increase in the number of forest workers here on guestworker visas, who typically have the least understanding of workplace health and safety rights and responsibilities.

Project Objectives

    The purpose of this project is to create and evaluate a pilot lay health advisor, or promotora program targeting forest workers, many of whom are foreign-born guestworkers. The program will be evaluated for its effectiveness in
  • Reaching forest workers;
  • Increasing forest worker knowledge of specific things workers and employers can do to prevent injury and illness on the job;
  • Increasing workers’ knowledge regarding job safety rights and how to use them; and
  • Increasing workers ability to address job-related health and safety problems.
Main Findings: 

Materials. Four meetings were held with workers and other community members to 1) identify key health and safety concerns; 2) seek input on the survey the Alliance was designing to interview forest workers about their work experience; 3) review initial survey results and what they indicated should be addressed in the promotora program; and 4) provide some initial feedback and input on draft training materials and activities. As a result, tabletop guides for four different 2-hour training workshops were developed, covering workplace rights, outdoor hazards, chainsaw safety, and what to do if you are injured. The workers we met with requested that any fact sheets produced be compiled as a booklet, so we also produced a 30-page booklet.

Promotora Training. Four women from the community—all wives of forest workers—were recruited to serve as promotoras. Two of the women participated from the beginning of the project, and worked with the Alliance to survey forest workers about their work experience (described in a separate poster authored by C. Wilmsen of AFWH.) These two women also participated in the community worker meetings described above. The four women participated in over 50 hours of training over twelve days (four Th/Fri/Sat sessions). Training included basic education on being an effective promotora, provided by staff from Migrant Health Promotion, but focused primarily on demonstrations and practice with the table top guides. After the first 3-day session, it became clear that we should focus on just one or two workshop topics. Later training sessions have focused on two workshop topic areas, with additional demonstration, practice, and discussion about effective recruitment strategies.

Worker Training. As of December 2011, the promotoras have conducted nine workshops for a total of 41 workers, plus at least 10 other family members. Low-literacy pre/post tests are completed by participants at the time of the workshop. A focus group with a sample of worker participants will be conducted in June 2012. Initial evaluation results will be available in Fall 2012.

Lessons Learned to Date:

Complete evaluation results will not be available until September 2012 or later.

Working with brand new educators: Presenting or playing any kind of role as an educator was brand new to all of the promotoras we worked with. While challenging in terms of the time and resources needed to be successful, the women have been enthusiastic about facing these challenges, and their new role as leaders in the community is already apparent.

Building a network: Engaging members of the community as educators and information resources is a culturally appropriate approach, and has already begun to contribute to building a network of support for forest workers in the Medford area. Husbands of the promotoras have been fully supportive (providing child care and practicing workshop activities with their wives), and many other forest worker wives and family members have participated in workshops and begun to seek out information from the promotoras.

Building capacity: Forest workers have such a low level of understanding of their health and safety rights and responsibilities that the promotora approach, while challenging, has a huge potential for spreading information and sharing workers’ stories in the community—the first step towards training for action.

Policy, Practice or Research Impacts: 

Forest workers have such a low level of understanding of their health and safety rights and responsibilities that the promotora approach, while challenging, has a huge potential for spreading information and sharing workers’ stories in the community—the first step towards training for action.

Contact Person: 
Diane Bush
Contact Person's Email Address:
Labor Occupational Health Program
Principal Investigators: 
Robin Baker
Website for Project or Program: 
Alliance of Forest Workers and Harvesters
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
Location - States: 
Southern Oregon
Location - Countries: 
Publication Date: