Assessing and Preventing Occupational Injuries in Animal Agriculture

Project Description

Occupational Hazards in Pork Production Associated with Production Practices

Dates: 2016 – 2022

Occupational injury in animal agriculture not only affects the health and well-being of workers, but is a significant burden to the agriculture industry due to lost productivity and compensation costs. The safety environment of the workplace is complex in animal agriculture and the health and well-being of the animals must also be considered. There is significant interest in reducing the burden of injury, however the tools available for specific injury prevention activities are limited. The long-term objective of this research is to provide injury prevention tools for producers, managers, and safety professionals to prevent and control injuries in animal agriculture.


The goals of the proposed research are to:

  1. aggregate sufficient data from multiple sources to characterize specific injury risk factors for the most severe and costly injuries with modifiable risk factors in animal agriculture production systems, and
  2. develop injury prevention and control protocols that can be utilized by producers, managers, and insurance loss control professionals to reduce the burden of injuries from those factors.


To reach this goal pork and dairy, and workers’ compensation insurance carriers will be engaged to:

  • Build on established partnerships with animal agriculture production operations and workers’ compensation insurance carriers in the Upper Midwest and nationally.
  • Aggregate available data from multiple sources, including employer injury reports and workers’ compensation claims data, to characterize injury risks and costs of injury.
  • Identify injury prevention priorities for injuries that place the most burden on workers and employers based on frequency, severity, and cost
  • Apply expertise in occupational safety and animal husbandry to develop loss prevention strategies that target specific injury risks using a Haddon Matrix approach.
  • Disseminate these prevention strategies and other UMASH derived products through partnership connections.

2019 Project Updates

Occupational injury in animal agriculture affects not only the health and well-being of workers, but is a significant burden to the agriculture industry due to lost productivity and compensation costs. There is significant interest in reducing the burden of injury, however the tools available for specific injury prevention activities are limited. People working in the animal agriculture industry may encounter a number of health and safety risks on a daily basis. Contact with animals, working on uneven and slippery surfaces, repetitive motions in ergonomically compromised positions, and using powered machinery, are examples of routine hazards. In addition to the potential injury risks, the amount of lost work time, lost productivity, and increased medical and operational costs present a significant burden to the industry. To properly characterize the burden of injury, identify opportunities for prevention, and evaluate progress in controlling injury requires systematically collected data that can link injury events to information characterizing risk. Identifying the most common and severe injuries is the first task in an injury prevention program. Developing specific strategies to prevent injuries requires an understanding of the underlying determinants of the injury. To accomplish this goal, we are engaging our industry partners and people with expertise in animal agriculture to identify how specific injuries might be prevented, high-impact dissemination, and accelerated implementation of interventions in at-risk populations

In the last year we have continued to examine aggregated data from our pork industry partners and worker compensation carriers. Utilizing data from companies and insurance carriers provides unique opportunities and challenges, but will ultimately offer a more comprehensive picture of injury risks to workers and burden to employers. Through these efforts we are identifying and describing major injury problems and potential causes of these injuries. We continue to focus on needlestick injuries and animal interaction injuries in swine operations and have manuscripts being prepared for each topic. There are some notable findings that we will further explore with our partners.

Needlestick injuries are not frequent, but can result in serious complications. From both company and insurance claims data we note that these injuries can be costly and result in substantial time away from work. Moreover, contrary to some beliefs, there is a considerable risk of injury to workers who are using needleless injection systems. We have limited data comparing these types of injuries, but it appears injuries from needleless systems result in higher average compensation costs and time away from work. The type of medication used may contribute to this difference. Another observation is that workers injured by both needlesticks and through an animal interaction have less experience than those with other types of injuries. Animal interactions are the most common cause of injuries, but may have a wide range of causes. We have directed our efforts toward identifying scenarios where the injuries that do occur may have been prevented with improved animal handling skills. We believe this will guide future development and implementation of tailored in-service animal handling training as a means to reduce injuries and improve the care and welfare of the animals. Our investigation has spearheaded our recent outreach and training efforts with the National Pork Board on sow handling as an important training tool for swine human resource officers and prevention of animal interaction injuries. Finally, through text analytics of the worker compensation data we have identified power-washing related injuries as an area of focus for the coming year.

We continue to recruit both swine and dairy operations. We anticipate that our efforts to understand the reporting of injuries in animal agriculture will also facilitate evaluating efforts to implement any prevention protocols.

This research will fill a significant gap in preventing injuries in animal agriculture by aggregating data for decision-making. The results will provide incentive and mechanisms for producers and their workers’ compensation carriers to work together to reduce the frequency and burden of injuries in animal agriculture.

Project Personnel

Photo of Bruce H. Alexander PhD

Bruce H. Alexander, PhD

Division Health & Professor, Founding UMASH Director Environmental Health SciencesUniversity of Minnesota School of Public Health

Photo of Jeffrey B. Bender DVM, MS, DACVPM

Jeffrey B. Bender, DVM, MS, DACVPM

UMASH Director Former Director, USAID One Health Workforce ProjectProfessor, Environmental Sciences, School of Public Health, University of Minnesota
Phone: 612-625-6203
Photo of Sandra Godden DVM

Sandra Godden, DVM

Professor Veterinary Population MedicineCollege of Veterinary Medicine, University of Minnesota
Phone: 612-625-8177
Photo of Katherine Schofield PhD

Katherine Schofield, PhD

Associate Professor Swenson College of Science and EngineeringUniversity of Minnesota Duluth
Phone: 218-726-6306 Website: Bio
Photo of Bryan Weichelt PhD, MBA

Bryan Weichelt, PhD, MBA

Project Scientist National Farm Medicine Center
Phone: 715-221-7276