SPOTLIGHT: Training Dairy Workers on Health and Safety

SPOTLIGHT: Training Dairy Workers on Health and Safety

 APRIL 2020

Chela Vázquez
Coordinator and Trainer

It’s been two years since I joined UMASH doing trainings on health and safety in Spanish for dairy workers in Minnesota. My job entails going to dairy farms, meeting workers and engaging them in discussion about potential injuries on the farm and ways to prevent it. I have learned so much about dairies and what it takes to work on a dairy farm.

My learning curve has been steep and very satisfying. It never ceases to amaze me how dairies work with several components moving in synchrony, from growing corn and hay crops in the field, harvesting, building silos and silo bunkers, preparing the cows’ feed, milking the cows, transporting milk out of the farms to coops and distributors, and seeing the final product on markets’ shelves. If something fails, the farm goes into emergency mode because a dairy farm works 24 hours, 7 days a week. Cows don’t take breaks.

My work focuses on the milking portion of the dairies, which is the delicate part where workers handle the cows from the pens to the milking parlor and help them deliver their precious product. During our trainings, workers talk about how understanding cows’ behavior can help make the cows more calm and keep workers safe. In the trainings, workers engage in discussions on the safe use of machinery and learn to understand safety data sheets of the chemicals used to clean the parlor, milking units and so forth. Raising awareness on health and safety and discussing strategies to reduce and prevent injuries turns out to be an important factor in decreasing workers’ injuries on the job.

Engaging workers to talk about health and safety is a rewarding experience for me. A worker observed that one time he was pushing a cow but the cow was pushing him. After the training he learned about the cow’s behavior which tends to push in response to where the pressure comes from. Understanding this aspect of a cow’s behavior could help him avoid inadvertently being pinned between two cows, he said.

The dairy farms enrolled in the Workers’ Health and Safety Project of UMASH, UMN, have self-selected themselves by choosing to have their workers trained. An educated and well-trained workforce acts as insurance for the farm with fewer injuries and better-cared for cows. Furthermore, the trainings help dairies to comply with OSHA, which requires farms to train their workers yearly. Our trainings are OSHA approved. The farms decide on the date and timing of the trainings. We come to the farm on demand, and the trainings are free of charge.

To request health and safety trainings for dairy workers, free of charge,

call Chela at 612-625-4578 or write to vazquezc@umn.edu