6 Ways to Stay Safe on a Dairy

July 11, 2012 11:28 PM

Dangerous bulls, heavy machinery and treacherous manure pits can all pose hazards on a dairy. Follow these safety precautions.

Dangerous bulls, heavy machinery and treacherous manure pits can all pose hazards on a dairy. Because accidents, injuries and even deaths have occurred on dairies, it’s essential to stress safety with employees, says Dr. Gerald Higginbotham, ruminant business manager with Micronutrients and former dairy extension advisor with the University of California Cooperative Extension.

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Higginbotham suggests these safety precautions:

1. Stay on guard around those animals. "Dairy bulls are not to be trusted, in spite of their docile appearance," Higginbotham says. "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.

2. Keep alert in the milk barn. 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.

3. Take care with cleaning. "Chemicals for cleaning milking equipment are safe if label directions are followed," says Higginbotham. "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.

4. Pay attention when operating equipment. 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," says Higginbotham. Mixer trucks or wagons must be off and the 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.

5. Use extreme caution in manure storage areas. Many dangers can exist concerning manure storage areas. Toxic gases produced from these areas 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," says Higginbotham.

6. Be prepared. Precautions and knowing what to do in case of emergency can prevent accidents and injuries. "All persons working on the dairy should have a basic knowledge of first aid and where first aid kits are located," Higginbotham says. "All should be instructed on when to dial the 911 emergency phone number."

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