History of CS-CASH

History of CS-CASH

Modern farm safety and health in Nebraska got its start with Rollin Schnieder, faculty member and extension safety specialist at University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL). He was an active educator and author of numerous materials in the 1970’s through 1990’s on farm safety topics including tractors, round balers, snow removal, noise, hand signals, irrigation, power lines, and anhydrous ammonia. He became well known nationally for his contributions to the National Institute for Farm Safety (NIFS) and other national efforts. He generously shared his expertise and his vision with Dr. Susanna Von Essen when she became interested in farm health and safety in the 1990s. David Morgan and Dr. Robert Grisso also made major contributions to the farm safety programs at UNL and the Nebraska Tractor Testing Laboratory.  At UNMC, Dr. Susanna Von Essen started laboratory based research with organic dust during her pulmonary fellowship in 1985-88. She was PI of the grant which UNMC received in 1992 from the W.K Kellogg Foundation, together with the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, for conducting community-based farm health and safety projects. This work activated the ongoing collaboration with University of Nebraska-Lincoln agricultural safety experts.
In 1993, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation grant was used to found the community based health fair at the large farm trade show called Husker Harvest Days, which continues to this day. This health fair is very successful in terms of participation by community health care providers, representatives from area universities including the University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Agriculture and UNMC as well as the Nebraska Department of Health, the Nebraska Department of Labor and various non-profit organizations. At this health fair, farmers have access to a broad range of information and services concerning farm health and safety that are free or are offered to them at cost. Dr. Von Essen continues to use this health fair as an opportunity to reach farmers by conducting pulmonary function tests and advising on health, safety, and wellness in general. The resources from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation were also used to create opportunities for medical students and other students to learn about agricultural health. Dr. Matthew Beacom, a rural Nebraska family practice physician and UNMC alumnus was one of these students. He was inspired by Dr. Von Essen and others at UNMC to start his own very successful farm health and safety non-profit organization, through which he has participated actively in the Husker Harvest Days health fair for a number of years. Dr. Debra Romberger from UNMC began to do agricultural lung disease research in the mid 1990s. She has subsequently conducted numerous studies on organic dust and lung disease, greatly expanding pulmonary research at UNMC. Dr. Todd Wyatt soon joined this effort, contributing actively to the strong expertise in lung disease from agricultural exposures.

In 1995 a meeting at Mutual of Omaha with Dr. Kelley Donham from University of Iowa and Dr. Von Essen jumpstarted efforts that became the "Certified Safe Farm" program, funded by NIOSH in 1996 (Dr. Rautiainen Co-I). Some of the first participating farms were located in Nebraska. In 1998 while earning her MPH from the University of Michigan through the On Job-On Campus program, Dr. Von Essen participated in the organizing efforts which ultimately resulted in establishing the UNMC College of Public Health (CoPH).

In 2001 she wrote a grant on gene-environment interactions that was funded as part of the Iowa NIOSH Ag Center application.

In 2003 Dr. Dennis Smith, President of the University of Nebraska formally recognized Dr. Von Essen as a Pioneer for her contributions to her field, thereby also demonstrating institutional support for agricultural health.

In 2006 the founding Dean of the CoPH asked Dr. Von Essen to chair the committee that wrote the blueprint of the current Department of Environmental, Agricultural and Occupational Health (EAOH).  He insisted that "Agricultural" be part of the name and wanted Dr. Von Essen to be the champion for this theme, further demonstrating institutional commitment to agricultural health and safety on the UNMC campus. The name of the department was retained and the commitment to agricultural health and safety has become even stronger under the leadership of CoPH Dean Ayman El-Mohandes. 

In 2007, jointly with University of Iowa, UNMC hosted the Midwest Rural and Agricultural Safety and Health Forum in Omaha. At this time, the UNMC campus Agricultural Interest Group was formed, which has met monthly since that time and which has coordinated UNMC’s agricultural health and safety efforts, including this Center application. With leadership from Dr. Eleanor Rogan, Chair of EAOH, several faculty were recruited specifically to strengthen the expertise in agricultural health and industrial hygiene, including Dr. Risto Rautiainen, Dr. Chandran Achutan and Dr. Shawn Gibbs. Several other faculty members who were hired recently are also now engaged in this effort, including Dr. Ka-Chun Siu. Dr. Dana Loomis joined the faculty of the College of Public Health as Chair of the Epidemiology Department in the fall of 2010, bringing extensive occupational epidemiology expertise. In summary, UNMC has long been a leader in agricultural health and safety in the region. Now UNMC has the critical mass of expertise and institutional support that is necessary for leading a NIOSH Ag Center.