COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — Dr. Julie Sorensen, Director of the New York Center for Agricultural Medicine and Health (NYCAMH) and the Northeast Center for Occupational Health and Safety, was recently honored with the Safety & Health Researcher Award at the North American Agricultural Safety Summit in Las Vegas.
Sorensen’s career in in public health research has focused on behavior change strategies that increase the use of technologies that, in turn, keep agricultural workers safer on the job. A standout career accomplishment is Sorensen’s instrumental role in developing the National ROPS Rebate Program, a program to increase the use of tractor rollover protective structures or ROPS. Tractor rollovers are the most frequent cause of death on U.S. farms. A 2019 study, which Sorensen co-authored, estimated that at least 10 lives and more than four million dollars was saved in New York State between 2007 and 2017 thanks to ROPS rebate programming in New York.
Recently, Sorensen served as the principal investigator for the Lifejackets for Lobstermen Project, which was launched to identify solutions, remove barriers and increase fishermen’s interest in wearing lifejackets. The most frequent cause of death in the Northeast lobster industry is falls overboard. During the project, fishermen worked with the Northeast Center to identify comfortable options and eliminate challenges to using them. It culminated in two “Lifejacket for Lobstermen” vans stopping at 58 New England ports coast to bring fishermen-selected, discounted personal flotation devices (PFDs) that lobstermen could try on and compare side by side, including many new, unfamiliar options. The project surpassed expectations, distributing 1,087 PFDs to Northeast lobstermen.
Her ability to combine scholarship with ingenuity, hard work, and lots of input from the “experts”—the workers themselves, is what distinguishes her research, says Dr. John May, founder and former director of NYCAMH and the Northeast Center.
“She listens to the workers carefully and then networks—recruiting just the right collaborators to assure a successful outcome,” says May. “She is determined to translate the findings of research into meaningful and practical interventions that will have direct impact upon workers.”
The ROPS Retrofit Program and the Lifejackets for Lobstermen project are just two examples of how Sorensen stays with a project “when many researchers would have written their papers and moved on to a new topic,” he adds. “As a result, workplaces have become safer and lives have been saved.”
Sorensen earned her Masters in Medical Anthropology at Binghamton University and her Ph.D. in Public Health at Umeå University in Sweden. She started at NYCAMH and the Northeast Center, both programs of Bassett Healthcare Network, as a Research Assistant in 2001. She became Director in 2014. She has led efforts to develop an online migrant farmworker clinician’s resource as well as a surveillance system for tracking migrant farmworker injuries in the Northeast. She has also been actively engaged in identifying solutions to reduce power take-off (PTO) entanglement injuries by increasing farmer’s access to affordable and easy-to-use PTO shielding.
Sorensen successfully balances impactful research focused on improving worker health in the commercial farming, logging and fishing industries with the demands of being the director of two centers comprised of about 35 staff, working with policymakers and other industry partners, and dedicating much of her free time to community service.
“Not only is she a compassionate leader, but she is a giving mentor, both in terms of her time and knowledge,” says Dr. Erika Scott, deputy director for NYCAMH and the Northeast Center. “She brings her passion for public health and the agriculture industry to everything she does, and this undoubtedly inspires those around her.”
Additional awardees to be honored at the Summit include:
Lifetime Achievement—Dan Hair, Sandy, Utah, who was instrumental in establishing ASHCA
Educator—Bernard Geschke, Papillion, Neb., of the Progressive Agriculture Foundation
Farm/Ranch Owner—Tom Heffron, Belding, Mich., and his wife, Laura, for their dedication to fair work practices and dignified treatment of their farm laborers
Collaborating leaders–Chief Jerry Minor of the Pittsville (Wis.) Fire Company
Policymaker/Legislature—Thom Petersen, Commissioner, Minnesota Department of Agriculture, and lifelong farmer
The Safety Summit is being hosted by the Agricultural Safety and Health Council of America (ASHCA) with support from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We established these safety awards to acknowledge leaders who have made significant contributions to the advancement of worker health and safety,” said Jess McCluer, board chair of ASHCA, and vice president of safety and regulatory affairs at the National Grain and Feed Association. “These individuals and organizations have made positive impacts on the culture of safety in agriculture through safety training, collaboration, promotion, education or research.”
ASHCA is a not-for-profit coalition of agricultural business leaders, producer associations, risk managers and others working with safety associations, federal and state agencies, educational institutions and safety professionals.
For more information about the Summit, go to www.ashca.com.
–New York Center for Agricultural Medicine and Health
Northeast Center for Occupational Health and Safety