Dr. René Salazar faculty liaison in rural worker health and safety study

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Dr. Rene Salazar, assistant professor in the USF College of Public Health, has been selected to serve as faculty representative on a rural worker health and safety research project. Known as “Campos a Casa,” or “Fields to Home,” the community engagement initiative assesses rural workers’ awareness of environmental and occupational health and safety.

René R. Salazar, PhD, CIH

René R. Salazar, PhD, CIH

The project is a collaboration between COPH and the Florida Institute for Community Studies, which is engaged in health and occupational safety for farm workers and migrant workers. The funding grant is from the Florida Department of Health-Hillsborough County.

Salazar’s participation was enlisted by Dr. Alayne Untenberger, research director for FICS (pronounced “ficus,” like the tree).

“She came to me because I’m in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health,” Salazar said, “so she knew me, and she figured that this project would fit very well with me, which it does. It fits right into what I do.

“Basically, the project is looking at the perceptions of the workers in terms of health and safety, the same perceptions in terms of health and safety from the employers, and seeing where the gaps are so that we can help educate and also protect the workers. What, if anything, are they bringing from work into the home? Are they going out there and working with pesticides in the field, and then coming home with contaminated clothes and exposing all of their families to these issues?”

The first step, as in all research, is to answer the fundamental questions. In this case, what do rural workers know about their environments and the potential health and safety risks for them and their families? But the fundamentals don’t stop there.

“What do they know about it, and what do the employers know about it? That was essentially the proposed research,” Salazar said. “It was a $10,000 award, and it allowed for one of our graduate students in the Department of Community and Family Health to work with FICS to collect this data.”

Salazar said the graduate student, Uritzi Guzman, was chosen for the project because her family has done migrant farm work, she speaks Spanish, and she is “very tied in” with the migrant worker populations in the southern Hillsborough County communities of Ruskin and Wimauma, where the study is focused.

“She’s an ideal individual to fit in to help us with this information,” Salazar said. “She’s going to interview families, talk with workers, and talk with employers.”

The data will be compiled through the spring 2015 semester, Salazar said.

“We hope a research publication will come out of it, as well as the other good of educating the workers and educating the employers,” he said. “The end-point, ultimately, is worker protection.”


Story by David Brothers, College of Public Health.