Too many dairy producers and their employees are injured or killed each year in farm-related accidents.

The National Safety Council has identified agriculture as the most hazardous industry in the nation. For example, the National Agricultural Safety Database reported 12 fatalities in Minnesota related to manure-pit gases since 1994. And, 32 people in Michigan died in agricultural accidents during 2003. 

Human error is often the cause of farm accidents, including carelessness, risk-taking or not paying attention. But there are also situations where workers are not trained adequately to deal with certain farm practices.

Employee safety must be one of the main concerns on dairies. Many dairy owners rely on foreign-born workers (mainly Hispanics) who have little or no previous experience operating farm machinery or even working around dairy cattle. By contrast, experienced operators may sometimes evade safety rules and put their own lives or the lives of others at risk. 

Operator attitude is important with regard to machinery safety. Each operator should be alert at all times while operating farm machinery. Do not allow riders on tractors, skid-steers and other machinery. Enforce the “one-seat, one-rider” rule.

Explain to your employees the importance of using seat belts and require all operators to use them every time they are on the machinery. Also, remind them to drive at safe speeds around the farm, particularly when weather conditions worsen. 

Machine operators should always be aware — thinking ahead, focusing on their work, and anticipating potential hazards. Farm safety is critical to your operation and should be part of your business plan.

For employees, the most common hazards on the dairy are:

  • Tractors
  • Electrical boxes
  • Chemical and pesticides
  • Fuel tanks
  • Feed mixers
  • Sewers
  • Manure pits
  • Feed silos
  • Water heaters
  • Noise

Therefore, training employees about the safe use of these, and placing warning signs on or around them, are good safety-plan considerations.

For employees, if you are in a dangerous situation:

  • Have someone assist you or let your boss or co-worker know if you are going to work in a dangerous area so you are aware of each other’s whereabouts.
  • Let your boss know immediately if you think you are at risk in the area where you work. Remind him until the problem is solved. Do not take risks!
  • If you have suffered an injury or accident on the farm, tell your supervisor or manager as soon as possible before leaving the farm — especially for workers’ compensation purposes. Even if you feel OK, it may be advisable to visit a doctor. Some injuries do not show up right away and you may need medical attention.
  • Remind your boss to post emergency phone numbers next to each phone on the dairy or call 911 directly.

For managers:

  • Determine all potential hazards around your farm and show them to employees — not only when employees are first hired, but on a regular basis.
  • Develop safety protocols and make them mandatory for every employee.
  • Train new employees about safety and have farm-worker-safety meetings at least twice a year.
  • Involve equipment suppliers in your safety program
    and training.
  • Train the employees in their primary language for better understanding.
  • Post emergency phone numbers next to every phone on
    the dairy.
  • Keep your machines and tools in good condition. Regular maintenance will save time and money — in terms of fewer repairs — and also will help you avoid accidents.
  • Read and follow the instructions provided in equipment-
    operator manuals.
  • Determine what you need to do to comply with OSHA and other regulatory agencies.

Segundo Gonzalez is a dairy consultant specializing in on-farm training of Hispanic workers in Wisconsin and Minnesota. He can be reached at (715) 796-2756 or at

Benefits everyone

One of the most valuable resources on any farming operation is an experienced and knowledgeable worker, says Charles Schwab, extension farm-safety specialist at IowaStateUniversity. “It’s just as important to care for the safety and health of the worker as much as we do for the maintenance and operation of new expensive equipment,” he adds. “The average cost of a disabling injury is $34,000.”