In rural America, where agricultural workers are dying at rates higher than those of coal miners, farmers often take risks that are no longer tolerated in other work environments. But in Minnesota and other Midwestern states, virtually no one is protecting small farmers. Safety programs have been dismantled, funding has disappeared and in most states rules prevent inspectors from visiting farms with fewer than 11 workers — which is where most of the fatal accidents are happening.

That state of affairs will be the subject of the American Industrial Hygiene Association’s (AIHA) 2019 Upton Sinclair Memorial Lecture at the American Industrial Hygiene Conference and Expo (AIHce EXP 2019).

Award-winning series

Jeffrey Meitrodt, an investigative reporter with Minneapolis' Star Tribune, will discuss "The Price of Neglecting Farm Safety in the Midwest." Meitrodt will offer an inside view of the reporting behind his award-winning four-part series of article "Tragic Harvest" and its impact on farm safety in Minnesota. In the series, Meitrodt examined a troubling spike in farm deaths that went completely unnoticed by state and federal officials charged with overseeing workplace safety. 

Farmers' deaths "under the radar"

"Public officials claim they are doing farmers a favor by exempting them from safety rules that govern the rest of American industry, but the reality is quite different. Sadly, this crisis stays under the radar because farmers are dying individually, instead of in large groups like coal miners or plant workers," says Meitrodt.​

The lecture will take place at 3:15 p.m. (CDT) on Monday, May 20, at the Minneapolis Convention Center. 

The Upton Sinclair Memorial Lecture for an Outstanding Occupational Safety and Health News Story of the Year was instituted in 2000 by AIHA's Social Concerns Committee as a means of highlighting the importance of media in occupational safety and health. The lecture is named in honor of the political activist Upton Sinclair, best known for his novel "The Jungle," published in 1906, which revealed the horrors of meatpacking plants in Chicago and lead to major health and safety changes in the industry.   

About Jeffrey Meitrodt

John Meitrodt is a veteran investigative journalist. His first investigative report, published while he was a college student, prompted the Minneapolis Police Department to reform a controversial undercover unit. He worked for small newspapers in Massachusetts and upstate New York before moving to New Orleans in 1988, where he spent nearly 20 years digging into unethical business practices and cronyism. He has won national awards for his work and was part of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team that covered the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Since joining the Star Tribune in 2009, Meitrodt has led or overseen more than a dozen investigations, including the reckless use of all-terrain vehicles by children and the deadly surge of synthetic drugs. He co-authored a 2013 series about special education that won the National Headliner Award for education writing and was a finalist in the National Association of Black Journalists contest. He is currently working on investigations centered in the business world.