If you didn't know it already, farming is a dangerous job.
In 2009, national statistics show the highest fatality rate occurred in the agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting sectors with 26 fatalities per 100,000 full-time workers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this is eight times the national average. From 2003 to 2009, a period of six years, a total of 110 people were killed while working on U.S. dairy farms.
Non-fatal injuries also rank high for agriculture. In 2009, national estimates for non-fatal injuries were 5.1 per 100 workers. Beef and dairy industries have even higher injury rates of 6.5 and 5.4, respectively.
To prevent these types of accidents from happening, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has rules in place that all dairy farms must follow to protect the health and safety of your employees.
Safety plan please
Every dairy farm, no matter where you are located, should have a written safety program in place. Although requirements may vary slightly by state, dairy farms must comply with state and/or federal guidelines.
Unfortunately, when it comes to safety plans, the dairy industry is hopelessly out of compliance, says Anthony Raimondo, agriculture labor law attorney with McCormick Barstow in Fresno, Calif.
You might feel your dairy farm is a safe place to work. You may even hold employee safety meetings or perform safety trainings. But if the program isn’t written down, it doesn’t exist, says Raimondo.
“Many people have components of a safety plan as their business culture, but if it’s not written out, it doesn’t count,” agrees Amy Wolfe, executive director of AgSafe. “OSHA wants to see you have a safety-management plan.”
OSHA rules apply to you
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), any dairy farm that employs 11 or more employees at any time during the previous 12-month period or offers temporary housing to employees during that period is subject to OSHA regulatory oversight. A dairy farm is exempt from all OSHA enforcement if the dairy farm employs 10 or fewer employees currently and at all times during the last 12 months and has not offered any temporary housing during the preceding 12 months.
Family members of farm employers are not counted when determining the number of employees for OSHA oversight. A part-time employee is counted as one employee.
It’s important to note that while dairy farms that employ 10 or fewer employees are exempt from inspection, they are not exempt from OSHA regulations.
States with OSHA-approved State Plans may enforce on small farms, provided that 100 percent state funds are used and the state has an accounting system in place to assure that no federal or matching state funds are expended on these activities. Currently, there are 25 OSHA-approved state programs.
“The bottom line is we want all farms to do what they can to create a safe environment for its workforce,” says Mary Bauer, an OSHA compliance assistant specialist. “All farm employers are obligated to comply with OSHA regulations — no matter what size they are.”
OSHA is coming
Although, statistically, dairy farms are one of the most dangerous places to work, OSHA has left dairy farms alone for the most part. From 2000 to 2010, a total of 736 inspections took place on U.S. dairy farms. But this could soon be changing, says Wolfe.
OSHA regulations could be looked as a potential revenue generator for state and federal governments. “It’s all about low-hanging fruit, and dairy farms are low-hanging fruit,” notes Wolfe. “They don’t have to dig deep to write tickets.” And, because of the size and locations of dairy farms, they are visually easy to spot, she adds. As a result, dairy becomes an easy target.
During the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin annual meeting in Madison, Wis., earlier this year, Mary Bauer, an OSHA compliance assistant specialist, announced that Wisconsin would be stepping up its inspection of dairy farms, noting that a recent increase in on-farm fatalities is prompting the inspections.
“Just because OSHA has left you alone in the past does not mean they will in the future,” adds Raimondo.
It can cost you
If OSHA does show up at your door and you are out of compliance, it will cost you.
Fines can range from a couple hundred dollars to $70,000, depending upon the seriousness of the violation. Some penalties may even result in jail time.
Citations can be issued for a wide variety of things, such as improper or lack of worker personal protective equipment, inadequate injury and illness records and improper machine guarding, just to name a few. It is imperative for each owner and manager to be familiar with OSHA safety standards and how to stay in compliance with those standards. This will help ensure worker health and safety, as well as maintain an effective safety-management plan, explains David Douphrate with the High Plains and Intermountain Center for Agricultural Health and Safety at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo. (See “Citations by the numbers” at left.)
Pay attention to California
Pay close attention to the safety programs required in California, because they are setting a precedent for the rest of the country.
All dairy farms in California are required to have an Injury and Illness Prevention Plan (IIPP) as their safety program. The California IIPP is a much more extensive safety plan than currently required by any other state. Federal OSHA is working toward making the IIPP a federally mandated program.
California’s IIPP also has a standard for zoonotic safety. “Under the zoonotic safety standard, California dairy farmers are required to write down all measures they take to prevent disease transmission between employees and animals,” notes Wolfe. “Unfortunately, most dairy farmers aren’t in compliance.” The zoonotic safety standard has been in place since August 2008, but has yet to be enforced.
It’s unknown at this point if the zoonotic portion will be included in the federal program that OSHA is considering.
You need safety training
Research studies show that the two main causes of workers’ injuries, fatal and non-fatal, are incidents with machinery and animals. A safety program can help you prevent this from ever happening on your operation.
While all of the documentation that comes along with a safety program can be a pain in the rear, says Wolfe, it’s the right thing to do. It is also a great way to gain insight into how your operation functions, a process that may help your operation become more efficient.
Regardless, if you don’t take the time to put a safety program in place on your farm, you’re just waiting to be victims of the government, notes Raimondo.
Where to go for help
Many resources are available to help you develop an effective safety program for your farm.
High Plains and Intermountain Center for Agricultural Health and Safety www.hicahs.colostate.edu
U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration www.osha.gov
OSHA Compliance Assistance www.osha.gov/dcsp/compliance_assistance
OSHA eTools www.osha.gov/dts/osta/oshasoft/
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Safety and Health Resource Guide for Small Businesses www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2003-100/default.html
Cal/OSHA Guide to developing your workplace injury and illness prevention plan http://www.dir.ca.gov/dosh/dosh_publications/iipp.html