The dairy industry is dynamic, depending largely on immigrant employees working long hours at a high pace, under difficult environmental and social conditions.
This changing industry and the health and safety of its workers is featured in the current issue of the peer-reviewed Journal of Agromedicine (Volume 18, Issue 3).
As much as 80 percent of the United States dairy workforce is Hispanic, said Dr. Matthew Keifer Journal of Agromedicine editor-in-chief and director of the National Farm Medicine Center at Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation, Marshfield, Wis.
"The influx of these new employees, who are often immigrants with little experience in agriculture, raises new safety issues," Keifer said.
Dairy farming is among the most hazardous occupations, with high rates of injury, illness and employee turnover. Several high-profile fatalities prompted the Wisconsin office of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to begin inspecting Wisconsin dairy farms in 2012.
"For dairy farmers trained to manage cows, the operation of a modern dairy employing a large immigrant workforce is a daunting challenge," said Stephen Reynolds, Journal of Agromedicine guest editor and director of the High Plains Intermountain Center for Agricultural Health and Safety (HICAHS) at Colorado State University.
The Journal enlisted an international guest editor team, led by Reynolds, to review the status of the world dairy industry, highlight current occupational health and safety research, and identify knowledge gaps and programmatic needs.
The articles in this issue provide an overview of the industry and examine key areas such as respiratory health, ergonomics, injury and fatality, and psychosocial and mental health. Other articles address occupational health and safety regulations, leadership and management, and guidelines for animal handling. All of the papers note the lack of peer-reviewed publications regarding effective health and safety interventions.
In addition to Reynolds, guest editors include: Dr. Claudio Colosio, University of Milan; David Douphrate, University of Texas; Christina Lunner Kolstrup and Peter Lundqvist, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences; and Matthew Nonnenmann, University of Iowa. They all are part of the HICAHS-led International Dairy Research Consortium, which first met in July 2011 in Colorado.
"Research is needed to develop and evaluate cost-effective solutions," Keifer said. "We believe this special issue of the journal will be a resource to help guide future research to enhance the health and sustainability of the dairy workforce."