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Seven safety program elements addressing zoonotic diseases

Kimberly Naffziger Published on 20 November 2013

Having an effective safety program is essential. It helps protect your employees, lowers your costs and increases your profitability.

For operations that involve working with and around animals, such as dairies, the program should incorporate safety practices and precautions related to zoonotic diseases, which are those diseases that can be transmitted between humans and animals.

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Some examples of zoonotic diseases are anthrax, bovine tuberculosis, brucellosis, cryptosporidiosis, leptospirosis, ringworm and salmonellosis.

While it is rare to become infected with a zoonotic disease, dairies should take proactive steps to ensure employees are trained to prevent, recognize and report zoonotic diseases.

This includes what to do if either an employee or a cow shows signs or symptoms, how to report potential zoonotic diseases and steps employees can take to prevent transmission of zoonotic disease.

For most operations, an effective safety program addressing zoonotic diseases should be in writing and include the following seven elements:

1. Management’s commitment
A successful safety program needs management’s commitment. Identify who will be responsible for the program and ensure they have the authority and accountability for all company health and safety programs related to injury and illness prevention for zoonotic diseases.

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2. Effective zoonotic hazard recognition, prevention and control measures
An important part of the program is to identify potential hazards such as zoonotic diseases for cattle, routes of transmission, exposure based on types of workplace activities, signs and symptoms exhibited in infected animals and signs and symptoms exhibited in infected humans.

The potential routes of transmission and specific work activities with potential exposures may include inhalation, dermal exposure, direct contact and ingestion. Employees may be exposed to animals and unprocessed products or wastes through the following work activities:

• Maintaining animals in barns

• Managing compost piles

• Milking cows

• Cleaning pens

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• Doctoring animals

• Birthing of animals

Companies should outline measures that can be put in place to reduce employee exposures to zoonotic disease. Examples of these are:

• Sanitation

• Personal protective equipment

• Veterinarian services and referral

• Physical controls

• Training

3. Training
Employees should receive safety training and retraining on zoonotic diseases of dairy cattle. It’s important to consider your employees’ educational level, literacy and language when planning and conducting safety sessions.

Training should be conducted as needed and especially upon employee hire, implementing a safety program and when processes change or new disease exposures are identified, including announcements from county, state and federal alerts. There are several types of training methods that can be conducted. Examples include:

• Safety meetings

• Tailgate trainings

• Posted and written materials

Training topics might include:

• Signs and symptoms of specific diseases affecting your operation

• Limiting exposure to zoonotic diseases

• Hand-washing procedures

• Hazards for specific operations

• Biosecurity procedures

• Proper use of personal protective equipment

• Needles or sharps training

• How to handle potential exposure or infection control

• How to report animal or zoonotic diseases

• Handling deceased animals when cause of death is undetermined

• Education on health concerns of drinking unpasteurized milk

• Emergency procedures

4. Reporting of potential zoonotic diseases
Dairies should have measures in place for immediately reporting suspected zoonotic diseases, especially when bovine illnesses present themselves or are suspected.

It is also important employees know who they should report this information to, whether it is a supervisor, manager or other designated personnel.

Any employee who may have been exposed to zoonotic disease and subsequently develops associated symptoms such as dermatitis, influenza-like illness or an enteric illness should immediately report the illness or condition to their employer.

5. Investigation and surveillance of potential zoonotic diseases
The dairy should have a system in place to monitor all potential animal sources on a regular basis. It is important to follow up on reports of animal illnesses and take appropriate actions as necessary.

6. Biosecurity measures and procedures
It is important to establish and follow biosecurity procedures to reduce exposures to individuals who might come into contact with animals by entering the premises. The program should include specific procedures for your facility. Examples include:

• Require all visitors to check into the front office before entering the facility or operation.

• Isolate the sick animal(s).

• Contact the veterinarian in the event a zoonotic disease is identified, and limit handling of infected animals to authorized, permitted and trained personnel only.

• Utilize protective equipment if applicable including gloves, rubber boots, protective clothing, shoe covers and respirators.

• Maintain eye wash stations.

• Make needle or sharps containers available so these materials can be properly disposed of.

• Arrange for a designated area where infected animals can be kept while investigating the potential for zoonotic disease.

• Ensure that proper sanitation procedures are followed, i.e., boot washes, hand-washing facilities, disinfectants.

7. Record-keeping procedures
As with any element of an effective safety program, records should be maintained. Examples of some of the records include:

• Training, orientation dates, materials and attendee sign-in sheets

• Inspection records

• Investigation records

The information above provides guidelines for a zoonotic prevention program and are applicable for most operations under standard conditions where there is no USDA or other state-mandated movement or treatment restrictions or orders.

However, in the event of a disease control order or movement restriction, dairies are instructed to work directly with the local, state or federal entity that has been identified for the particular occurrence such as the local county health department or the local county agricultural commissioner or the Center for Disease Control.

Addressing zoonotic diseases is important for the health and welfare of both employees and cattle. PD

Kimberly Naffziger is an agricultural specialist with Zenith Insurance Company and has been involved with the agricultural industry for most of her life. Her background includes serving as Program Development Specialist at California State University, Fresno’s Center for Agricultural Business from 1990 to 2008. In 1997, she became Executive Director for AgSafe, a non-profit organization. While at the university, Kimberly conducted applied research and was involved in the dissemination of information through educational outreach programs for the agricultural industry. Kimberly has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Agricultural Business from California State University, Fresno.

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Kimberly Naffziger

Agricultural Specialist
Zenith Insurance Company

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