Editor’s note: This article was written by Anthony Raimondo, agriculture labor law attorney with McCormick Barstow in Fresno, Calif., for Western United Dairymen. 

An eleven year old boy died recently at a New Hampshire dairy after a feed pile collapsed on him.  The boy was riding his bicycle on the farm, and entered an open silage storage area.  He rode near a feed pile that collapsed and buried him.  Although adults on the scene attempted CPR, the boy died after two days in the hospital.

 All dairies should be alert to safety issues on the farm.  Dairy farms are among the most dangerous work environments in the United States, and dairy producers should be alert to the risks and hazards for employees, their families, and visitors to the dairy.  To prevent accidental injuries and deaths, and to protect against the liability that can flow from such accidents, all dairies should have a premises safety plan that includes the following: 

  • Access Control:  All dairies should have a policy that visitors (including vendors, salesmen, and the like) must check in with a designated representative and receive specific permission to enter the areas of the dairy where they need to go.  The designated representative should inform the visitor of hazards in the area to be visited (like stacked hay or feed piles that can fall, or traffic lanes for trucks and equipment), and should direct the visitor only to the area where access is permitted.  Visitors should not be given free reign to wander around the ranch.  Where appropriate, escort the visitor to where they need to go. 
  • Posting:  Any area where there is a biosecurity concern (including milking parlors, hospital barns, maternity areas, etc.) should be posted as no access, except for authorized personnel.  Areas of high safety concern, such as manure lagoons or silage storage, should be posted with warning signs regarding the dangers that are present.  Roadways should be posted to warn visitors to watch out for trucks and equipment.   
  • Rules and Regulations:  Employees should be trained on the access control policy, and should be trained to report any visitors who they see wandering on the property.  In addition, written policies should prohibit employees from bringing their children (or any non-employee) to work with them.
  • Housing Agreements and Rules: Housing agreements should be in writing and with written rules to protect safety on the premises.  Rules should include, at minimum, a directive that employees must not allow their children to play in roadways or working areas of the farm, and prohibitions against allowing dogs to roam free.
  • Compliance.  Cal/OSHA compliance can reduce employee injuries by improving safety programs, and can protect the business from OSHA citations.  All California employers are required to have comprehensive written safety plans, and all California employers must provide safety training to employees.  Producers who are unsure about their Cal/OSHA obligations should contact experienced labor counsel to make sure that the required safety programs, training, and precautions are in place.

No one wants to see a tragedy occur on the farm, and no one wants to face the potential liability for a death or serious injury on the farm.  All dairies should take proactive steps to improve safety on the ranch to prevent accidents, and to protect the dairy from liability if an accident occurs. 

Liability and umbrella insurance policies often cover liability for injuries to third parties on the premises, but the policy will typically include safety conditions that must be followed or coverage may not be available.  Some policies require implementation of safety plans, or even inspections by an insurance company representative. All dairies should be familiar with any coverage conditions applicable to their insurance policies, and must be sure to comply in order to make sure coverage is available in case of an accident.  Insurance carriers will typically be helpful with safety plans; as such plans minimize the risk of accidents and claims. 

Similarly, many workers’ compensation insurance carriers can provide assistance with safety training, workplace safety programs, and Cal/OSHA compliance.  Implementing such programs can help control workers’ compensation costs by reducing the number of claims and minimizing the experience modification rating, which uses claims history to drive up the rate.   

The goal of this article is to provide employers with current labor and employment law information. The contents should not be interpreted or construed as legal advice or opinion.

Source: Western United Dairymen