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Safety: A dairy farm’s necessity, not a luxury

Ximena del Campo for Progressive Dairyman Published on 04 November 2016

Editor’s note: Click here to read this article in Spanish.

In a matter of seconds, one small mistake can change a dairy farmer’s life forever. Did you know human negligence is the major cause of machine-related accidents?



Who is at risk?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every day 167 farm workers suffer some kind of injury which prevents them from working, and one in 20 of these accidents cause permanent impairment. Data from 2012 shows that 374 farm workers died from work-related injuries, making the fatality rate 20.2 deaths per 100,000 workers.

Not only adults suffered injuries and deaths but kids too. According to the CDC data from the same year, there are around 955,000 kids under 20 years old who live on farms, and around half of them work on the farm. On average, 113 kids die from farm-related injuries each year.

The Department of Labor reports that of the 2.5 million farmworkers in the U.S., over half (53 percent) are undocumented. So the figures presented might not reflect real numbers, and the situation is perhaps worse.

Large field equipment and animals are the most common causes of farm accidents. Machines are the inanimate objects essential to any farm – and yet they present the most danger to people who operate them and are the leading cause of injury and death on American farms.

Yet the responsibility for safely operating them rests with the operator. They are designed to use power, motion, torque and might be run by power take-off drivelines, electric motors, hydraulic oil pressure, ground traction or internal combustion engines. Taking shortcuts to save time, ignoring a warning, lack of training, poor maintenance and not reading the manual are some of the reasons why accidents occur.


Safe and responsible operators

Responsible operators understand the importance of the machine they are working with and the possible dangers it may present. They also have been properly trained and re-trained. Safe farms follow and instill some basic steps to create a safer environment:

  1. Teach the operator to use the machinery properly. Always read and use the operator’s manual. Training for operators is key to reducing the chances of accidents.

  2. Be alert at all times. Learn the hazards involved when operating machinery and anticipate dangerous situations. There is no replacement for an operator who is conscious about the machine and the environment and adapts accordingly.

  3. Always follow the recommended safety practices – no shortcuts.

  4. Use personal protective equipment such as clothing, helmets, goggles or other gear.

  5. Be sure to be well rested, take breaks and eat. Operator alertness is key to safety.

  6. Standard operating procedures – Design and maintain updated standard operating procedures and train people accordingly.

Safety guards and repairs

Never operate a machine with missing safety guards. If these have fallen or torn off during operation, be sure to replace them before using the machine. Always take time to inspect the machinery for missing or damaged safety guards. New equipment comes with shields, warning signs and a variety of safety features for your security.

Sometimes a repair or adjustment is needed for the machinery to operate smoothly and efficiently. Be sure to turn off the machine before repairing or adjusting equipment.

PTO drivelines
The power take-off (PTO) shaft transfers mechanical power between implements and farm tractors. It presents the most persistent hazard associated with farm machinery. Accidents occur from clothing getting caught by an operating, unguarded PTO stub.

Exposed bolts, burrs and other rotating components can grab clothing, entangling a person and causing injury and even death. These are just some examples of ways to reduce PTO injury incidents:

  • Ensure that all the PTO components are guarded and shielded.

  • Never step over the rotating shaft, no matter how slowly it may be turning.

  • Don’t wear loose, baggy clothing around PTO shaft.

  • Instruct all operators about the dangers of the PTO.

Keep your animals safe

Farmers and managers tend to focus more on being safe around hazardous equipment, but animals are a very important part of this equation. Keeping them safe will result in you being safe. Understanding animal behavior can help prevent animal-related injuries.


Some of the most common injuries include being stepped on, kicked, crushed and knocked over, to name a few. As an example, many farms have easy-to-access exits in case employees are in a dangerous situation.

Both animals and machinery are an essential part in the life of a farmer, and it’s important that both (animals and machines) are protected. Injured animals and personnel alike take away valuable time, affecting the bottom line of your operation. Train your personnel and avoid injuries.

The value of reporting near-miss incidents

OSHA and the National Safety Council define a near miss as “an unplanned event that did not result in injury, illness or damage – but had the potential to do so.” Implementing this proactive program, where employees can record warnings or near-miss incidents, gives the farm an opportunity to take the necessary steps to ensure a safe working environment.

Consider providing incentives recognizing employees who report hazards. These reports can be indicators of safety performance as well as help you identify potential hazards. Don’t forget to celebrate milestones accomplished, too.

Safety policies, procedures and emergency preparedness

First and foremost, follow the federal laws and regulations affecting farm safety in your state. Every farm should have and enforce standard operating procedures, policy guides, rules and procedures to reduce injuries.

In order to assure a safe workplace, farms should offer thorough training, education and regular inspections. If you have a large number of employees, create an employee safety committee. This committee should include managers, supervisors and workers.

Safety and health programs are an effective way to mitigate risks and should be tailored to your specific operation. There can be legal and financial consequences for farm operators if someone becomes ill or injured in a farm that does not have a written safety plan being followed.

Remember, the only way to know if the safety training has been effective is evaluating the program through observation, testing and having employees demonstrate the newly learned skills after they are trained.

Last but not least, establish emergency procedures in case of accidents, injury or other emergency situations. Be sure your staff knows what to do and who to call in the event of an emergency.


Employees tend to identify unsafe conditions and intervene to correct them. This can only be achieved through regular training and setting good examples. If a farm is not safe, the word will get around, and it will be hard to recruit good employees.

Also, recently, a lot of companies across a host of fields have started to exclude suppliers that have a poor safety record. It would not be surprising if milk buyers go down the same path. More than economics, it is ethically the right thing to do by ensuring safety of employees.  end mark

References omitted but are available upon request. Click here to email an editor.

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