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Labor Matters

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Experts cover today’s key dairy labor issues and offer fool-proof techniques to optimize employee performance, sat­isfaction and longevity.

Keep Dairy Workers on the Safe Side

Jul 23, 2012

Your employees must understand the safety procedures for these dairy hazards.

By Gerald Higginbotham, Ph.D, Micronutrients

Unfortunately, there have been recent incidents involving dairy workers losing their life while performing their duties on the dairy. This is a good reminder of the safety procedures that need to be in place on dairy farms. Dairy farms have both animals and machinery that can pose hazards to the worker. Precautions and knowing what to do in case of emergency can prevent accidents and injuries.

The following are major safety concerns on dairies that should be discussed between the dairy manager/owner and the workers. In general, all persons working on the dairy should have a basic knowledge of first aid and where first aid kits are located. All should be instructed on when to dial the 911 emergency phone number.

Animal safety

Some corrals or groups of cows may have a bull in them. Separating cows from the bull for milking is usually not a problem. However, dairy bulls are not to be trusted, in spite of their docile appearance. They can move quite rapidly and with force. Designated escape exits located in fences or corrals should be made known to all workers. A cow with a newborn calf can be very defensive when the calf is removed from the pen. Cows have a panoramic field of vision but can’t see behind their rear legs. Sudden movements or noises from the rear can provoke a kick. Cows generally kick forward and outward to the side.

Milk barn safety

The force of crowd gates and entry/exit gates powered by hydraulic rams, air cylinders or electric motors must be respected. Avoid being trapped between a fence and an opening gate pushed by passing cows. Fingers and hands resting on milk pit curbs can be stepped on or kicked by cows. If feed augers are used to convey grain to cows in the milking barn use caution of moving parts if it is necessary to unjam stuck feed. Small children in the milking area can cause distractions and injuries. Overly loud radios can mask noises of malfunctioning equipment or cries for help in accidental situations.

Sanitation safety

Chemicals for cleaning milking equipment are safe if label directions are followed. Proper amounts and mixing procedures are very important. Rubber or plastic aprons and gloves can protect clothes and skin, while eye shields and face masks are recommended. Dangerous fumes will result from adding caustic chemicals to hot water or adding chlorine to acid rinses. Hot scalding water should also be considered a hazard. Teat dips, as well as cleaning chemicals, can cause allergic reactions in some people and gloves are advised. All workers should know location of the electrical main, gas and water valves, and release valves on hot water heaters.

Equipment safety

Belt driven compressors, vacuum pumps and PTO shafts should have guards placed over and around them. Be mindful that loose clothing may easily get caught in any moving equipment part which could cause the loss of a limb. Mixer trucks or wagons must be off and starter secured before entering the mixer box. Silage “avalanches” have resulted in deaths as well as serious injuries including permanent spinal cord damage. Use a loader with a roll-over protection cover (ROPS) cab, or at a minimum a ROPS with side screens, for silage removal. This will provide some protection for the operator if an avalanche occurs. Let other workers know about the dangers of being in close proximity to the silage face.

Many dangers can exist concerning manure storage areas. Toxic gases are produced from these areas which can pose a health threat to humans and animals. Deaths occur every year on dairies where dairy employees are working around manure storage facilities. An air respirator is recommended for those who may need to enter manure containment areas. Always use the buddy system so as to have someone call for help if the need arises.

It is the responsibility of the employer to provide a safe workplace to all employees, by setting up the worksite as safely as possible. Employees also have a responsibility to follow safety rules.

Dr. Gerald Higginbotham is Ruminant Business Manager in California for Micronutrients, a Division of Heritage Technologies, LLC. He received his B.S. and M.S. degrees from Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah and Ph.D degree from the University of Arizona. Dr. Higginbotham is a member of the American Registry of Professional Animal Scientists and is a diplomat of the American College of Animal Sciences. Contact him at 559-907-8013 or

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