MARSHFIELD, Wis. — Jennifer Lincoln, Ph.D., became Associate Director, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Office of Agricultural Safety and Health, in February 2020, just as COVID-19 hit the United States. Lincoln’s leadership in mobilizing a pandemic response to safeguard agricultural workers has been recognized by the Journal of Agromedicine, which named Lincoln its “Leader in the Field” for 2022.
“Dr. Lincoln’s training as an injury epidemiologist who focuses on workplace issues, coupled with her track record of leadership, made her the right person for leading the NIOSH ag office during the pandemic,” said Journal of Agromedicine Editor-in-Chief Mathew Keifer, M.D. “When COVID-19 hit, clear instructions and recommendations were urgently needed to ensure safe and healthy conditions for the essential agricultural workforce.”
With the food system under threat, Lincoln convened a working group comprised of representatives from the 11 NIOSH-funded Agricultural Safety and Health Centers to draft the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Interim Guidance for Agriculture Workers and Employers. She also was working internally with CDC colleagues outside of NIOSH, those who work with immigrant farmworkers, One Health, food systems and other areas.
The interim guidance, released jointly by CDC and the U.S. Department of Labor, aided the agriculture industry in decreasing the spread and impact of COVID-19 among people at agricultural worksites, farms and ranches, and other production agriculture worksites.
Lincoln grew up in rural southwest Indiana and moved to Alaska when she was 22. She joined NIOSH in 1992 with the opening of the Alaska Pacific Office (Alaska Field Station), and is known for having led development of the NIOSH Commercial Fishing Safety Research and Design Program. Her efforts, in partnership with the U.S. Coast Guard, have led to a substantial decline in commercial fishing deaths, identified in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) as one of the “Ten Greatest Public Health Achievements” of the decade.
Lincoln moved back to Indiana in January 2020 with husband Phil, settling in the county where she grew up (Sullivan County) and buying some hunting and farm land, which they lease for corn and soybean production.
“Since moving back to Indiana, we have become close friends with many farmers and people who work in the agriculture industry,” Lincoln said. “My husband hauls grain for our closest friends during harvest, and I enjoy feeding the guys lunch occasionally during harvest season. Sometimes I will ride with Phil on runs to the elevator, or follow him and the combine to shuttle rigs to the next field. Living in a farming community helps me better understand the real challenges of reducing hazards such as — crashes with farm equipment, dust exposures, and grain bin fatalities for example.
“To be an effective researcher or to lead/represent an effective research program, one must get from behind their computer screen and get to the places where workers are, to the worksites to witness hazards first hand, and to industry associations to understand priorities and identify places for synergy,” Lincoln said. “I have so much more to learn.”
As evidence of her desire for engagement with agricultural business and farm organization leaders, Lincoln serves as an Ad Hoc member of the board of the not-for-profit Agricultural Safety and Health Council of America (ASHCA) and has invited ASHCA’s leader, Jess McCluer, to co-chair the NORA Ag, Forestry, Fishing Sector Council with her. This affiliation further strengthens the relationship between NIOSH-funded research and influencers in agriculture.
Lincoln has a bachelor’s degree in environmental health (Indiana State University); a master’s in environmental quality science (University of Alaska, Anchorage); and a Ph.D. in health policy and management (Johns Hopkins University).
The Journal of Agromedicine is edited by the National Farm Medicine Center, Marshfield Clinic Research Institute, Marshfield, Wis. The journal announces its “Leader in the Field” in the first issue of each volume. The recognition goes to an individual who has made significant contributions in agricultural safety and health practice, policy and research.
— National Farm Medicine Center