Over the past year I have taught a lot of safety programs for dairy farmers in Minnesota. One of the topics included is injury as a result of repetitive motions. One usually thinks of this type injury in a factory setting where someone is doing the same task time after time, hour after hour, day after day. Well, what is the most repetitive task found on every dairy farm that doesn't have robotic milkers? Milking the cows!
Older dairy farmers can relate to knee problems from kneeling next to cows in stall barns, but milking in parlors has its own set of hazards in place of the knees, especially on larger farms.
It is not at all uncommon for farms to have 4 to 6 hour milking shifts today, and larger farms are often milking 24 hours a day with only short breaks to clean the equipment and change shifts. Parlors are typically built for milking staff of some 'average' height. I'm not sure if anyone knows what that average height is, so we can assume an awful lot of milking staff are shorter or taller making the work site less than idea for them. If the staff member is tall, they may find themselves stooping more to properly see the udder or attach the milking equipment. If the person is short, they find themselves reaching excessively to perform those same tasks. They may be handling a relatively heavy load at arm's length, creating extra stress on their backs, shoulders and arms. The constant manipulations by the hands may also increase the likelihood of carpal tunnel problems.
While employers must be concerned about discrimination issues when hiring, a part of the job description should be that employees are physically capable of safely performing the task with reasonable accommodation. There have been barns built with parlor pit floors that can be adjusted up and down to meet the needs of taller and shorter workers. Some farms have installed platforms to accommodate short milking staff. Sometimes you just need to ask whether than can really perform the task up to expectations and do so safely for themselves and others around them. In the end, if an employee experiences work related injuries from repetitive motions and working conditions, it is your workers' compensation insurance that will be paying, and your premiums that will be increasing.
DairyNZ (New Zealand's dairy extension program) offers these suggestions for making your parlor a safer place to work.
Shorten milking times – Make sure your milking routine is conducive to keeping the total time in the parlor as short as possible. This may only be practical if your parlor capacity might make a shorter time possible.