SPOTLIGHT: Agricultural Safety is a “Team Sport”

SPOTLIGHT: Agricultural Safety is a “Team Sport”


Jeff Bender, DVM, MS
Director, Upper Midwest Agricultural Safety and Health Center

Farming is dangerous work and farm workers are at high risk of personal injury. Agricultural workers are eight times more likely to die on the job than other workers. 1 Worker injuries on dairy farms are related to animal handling with cattle, often resulting in job restrictions. 2 However, contact with animals (e.g. infectious diseases), machinery, noise and repetitive injuries all contribute to injuries, illnesses, disability, and fatalities related to dairy production. Worker compensation claims only represent the very “tip of the iceberg.”

We need to encourage a broader approach to create a safe work environment for cattle and humans; veterinarians can be part of that Safety Team.

In a survey of Minnesota dairy farms (small to medium-sized, with herds under 500 cows) it was observed that smaller operations do not have access to worker safety resources.3 Of the 32 workers from 10 dairy operations completing the survey, 10 workers (31.3%) were Hispanic and eight workers (25%) had no previous livestock experience before their current job. Fourteen (50%) workers received training related to safety and injury prevention and six (19%) suffered at least one injury in the prior 12 months. These data illustrate that worker safety and injury prevention training is needed on all operations including small and medium sized dairies. To address this need a “team approach” is needed.

As part of an initiative led by the University of Minnesota’s Upper Midwest Agricultural Safety and Health (UMASH) center, we are identifying key partners in creating a health and safety team on dairy farms. In doing this, we identified veterinarians as one team member who can work with producers and herd managers to ensure a holistic One Health approach to animal welfare, a healthy work environment to minimize injuries and illnesses, and to provide educational input into the training of workers.

This focus fits with many agriculture quality assurance programs such as the National Dairy FARM (Farmers Assuring Responsible Management) program. FARM stated goal is to “take the very best care of cows and the environment, producing safe, wholesome milk and adhering to the highest standards of workforce development” ). Veterinarians have a broad understanding of One Health principles especially as it pertains to human-animal interaction and can be key partners in promoting worker health and safety. We need to encourage a broader approach to create a safe work environment for cattle and humans; veterinarians can be part of that Safety Team.

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  1. Johnson D. The most dangerous jobs in America. http://time.com/4326676/dangerous-jobs-america [Accessed 24 October 2016].
  2.  J. Paul Leigh, Stephen A. McCurdy and Marc B. Schenker (2001) Costs of Occupational Injuries in Agriculture, Public Health Reports (1974-), Vol. 116, No. 3 (May – Jun., 2001), pp. 235-248
  3. Cara Cherry, Ron Swiggum, Mary Hourigan & Jeff Bender (2014). A Pilot Study of Worker Safety Training and Injuries on Small to Medium Sized Dairies in Southeastern Minnesota, Journal of Agromedicine, 19:2, 243-244, DOI: 10.1080/1059924X.2014.892860