Creating a Safer Workplace at Your Dairy


Source: PennState Extension

In 2019 the United States employed more than two million full-time workers in production agriculture with nearly 500,000 youth working on farms. Every day about 100 of these workers suffer a lost-work-time injury, and in 2019, the death tally was 410 from a work-related injury. (1) The 2020 Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries report showed an overall decrease in work related fatalities, but an increase in Hispanic worker fatalities from 20.4% in 2019 to 22.5% in 2020. (2) Weichelt et al. (2021) indicated that based on data in the 2019 Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries Report, workers in agriculture and fishery industries were seven times more likely to die from a work-related injury than workers in other industries. The authors also reported about the lack of complete data reporting for fatalities that may be farm-related (i.e., tractor roll overs) but not included in reportable work-related injuries to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, causing an underestimation in agricultural-related fatalities overall. Given the high rate of injury and fatalities in agricultural operations, steps to make a dairy workplace safer are a good investment.

Many farm groups now begin their meetings with a “Safety Share” from members who have experienced a “near miss” or are otherwise compelled to tell a story about good safety practices. These simple reminders can be effective reinforcements of good work practices and emphasize the importance of safety. Incorporating regular reminders along with proven safety practices, monitoring by management of workers, and on-going workforce safety training are all positive steps to reduce the likelihood of workplace injuries or fatalities. The Recommended Practices for Safety and Health Programs available on the OSHA website (4) outlines “10 Easy Things to get your Program Started.”

  1. Set safety as a priority. Letting workers know that you value their personal safety and wanting them to finish the day and go home to their families is a conversation every dairy manager and owner needs to have more often. Manufacturing businesses often use signage with “X” days since a lost-work injury to communicate the commitment to safety.
  2. Lead by example. Don’t cut corners yourself and demonstrate and discuss working safety on a daily basis.
  3. Implement a reporting system. Make it acceptable for workers to share those “near misses” about safety and allow workers to communicate possible hazards without fear of reprimand.
  4. Provide training. While it is important to provide good training for workers in all areas of their job, it is especially critical to include safety training as part of that program. Workers coming to the dairy may not be familiar with the hazards associated with working with large animals, operating equipment, and handling various chemicals. One “near miss” incident shared from a dairy was from a new worker who was tasked with cleaning only to mix “A” with “B” resulting in a noxious gas release – luckily the worker and his colleagues were not injured but the fact that there was no training about what Not to mix nor any indication of What to do after mixing could have resulted in tragedy.
  5. Conduct inspections. Just because a worker is trained to work safely does not mean that they will. Monitoring workers for proper behavior along with asking them to identify any issues can prevent accidents. Richard Hawk (5) in an article from Safety+Health talks about “making a sandwich” in providing worker feedback – First tell them something that they are doing well or correctly, next provide instruction for a change needed for safety, then provide a positive comment at the end to reinforce.
  6. Collect Hazard Control Ideas.  Something as simple as a “safety box” with cards that workers can drop a note into can provide the information needed to make positive changes and improve safety. Ask at employee meetings if there are any concerns or hazards.
  7. Implement Hazard Controls. Fix those hazards that workers bring to your attention. If hearing protection or work gloves are needed, make certain that workers have and use those items. Machinery guards loose – tighten them up!  Missing guards – replace them.
  8. Address Emergencies. Do you have a “what if” emergency plan in place? At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a good effort to develop contingency plans for several issues that could impact the farm. Safety is one of those areas that needs to be addressed. Do first responders know (or have a quick way of knowing upon arrival) where hazards are on the dairy? Do workers know what to do in the case of various types of emergencies?
  9. Seek Input on Workplace Changes. Consult workers when making significant changes to operations and ask specifically if safety could be impacted by these changes.
  10. Make Improvements. Not using some of these suggestions? Have some room to improve safety? Start now. Make some positive improvements.

The work-related injury and death rates for agriculture are high. Dairy farm workers, especially Hispanic workers where worker fatalities were higher, are at risk of injury or death. Having those critical conversations, focusing on safety, monitoring both workers and hazards on the farm and addressing emergency situations will all help in creating a safer workplace on a dairy operation.


  1.  Agricultural Safety. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). 2021.  Accessed:  March 26, 2021.
  2. National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries in 2020.  Accessed:  March 26, 2021.
  3. Weichelt, Bryan; Scott, Erika; Burke, Rick; Shutske, John; Gorucu, Serap; Sanderson, Wayne T.; Madsen, Murray; Redmond, Emily; Murphy, Dennis J.; and Rautiainen, Risto, “What about the Rest of Them? Fatal Injuries Related to Production Agriculture Not Captured by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI)” (2021). Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering Faculty Publications. 243.
  4. OSHA Recommended Practices Web Page.  Accessed:  March 26, 2022.
  5. Hawk, Richard. 2015. All about You: Corrective behaviors and reminders: How to approach people. Safety+Health. June 28, 2015.


Lisa A. Holden, Associate Professor of Dairy Science