Tragically there have been two deaths on Idaho dairies this year involving dairy lagoons. Looking at the past four years, there have been 14 deaths on Idaho agriculture operations. Nationally, dairy operations have an injury rate of 5.3 injuries per 100 workers. Dairy has the second-highest prevalence of injuries among U.S. farm workers.
These statistics have not gone unnoticed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). They are currently developing a Local Emphasis Program (LEP) for Idaho agriculture and already have LEPs in place for Wisconsin and New York dairy operations.
The LEP allows OSHA to regulate operations with more than 10 employees. That oversight could include examining your documentation of employee training and include inspecting and citing those dairy operations for safety violations. In identifying some areas that might raise concerns, consider items such as electric power supplies, drive belt shields, augers, confined spaces, bunkers, silos, manure pits, hazardous chemicals, and animal handling procedures.
The Idaho Dairymen’s Association (IDA) Board of Directors believed they should be proactive with this issue, so they authorized development of the Idaho Dairy Worker Safety and Training Program. The program will cover the safety aspects OSHA requires. In addition, it will include training for dairy employees in all aspects of their work.
Development of the program is a collaborative effort between IDA, New Mexico State University’s Robert Hagevoort, David Douphrate from the University of Texas, and Glanbia Foods. The program will be led by a recent graduate of Texas Tech with a master’s degree in agri-business.
To be successful, this collaborative effort must address the requirements of OSHA, which will include detailed documentation of individual employee training. In addition, it must meet the needs of processors and their customers. There is obviously a cost for implementing a training program, and the burden of that cost needs to be shared by both the producer and the processing community. Success will also be measured if the training results in the development of an efficient labor force.As the responsibility of individual dairy operations grow in size and become dependent on nonfamily labor, being held responsible for safety, work environment, and the general wellbeing of their employees will be influenced by government oversight and expectations of consumers.