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How to Stay Safe While Milking on the Dairy Farm
Keeping a dairy farm operation running smoothly requires attention to detail and safely maintaining the workplace for your staff. It’s important that your employees know how to best do their job to stay healthy — and how to keep the risks of injury to a minimum.
To stay safe while milking, you need to do more than just avoid risks. It’s really all about safely handling raw milk and having a plan in place to train workers on the various hazards present in every phase of milk production. And like any other job involving risk, it’s about reviewing ways to prevent injury too. We’re going to take brief a look at a typical milking operation and explore the ways to reduce incidents through continued maintenance and training. Here are some tips to help your staff get their work done unharmed.
Dairy Farmers, Livestock Safety and Milk Cows
The moving of livestock can pose risks to handlers. Because milk cows are large animals, even a small mistake by a worker can sometimes result in serious injuries. As a result, it’s important that they know how to maintain your property well and deal with issues as they arise. Take a look at these tips to keep your employees safe around milk cows and your entire operation.
Awareness around dairy bulls. Because dairy bulls are more unpredictable than their beef bull counterparts, you should always have an escape route in mind when working with them. Their temperament can shift in a moment, and they are capable of charging if threatened or startled. Staying calm around them, and all cows for that matter is key. And treating them with respect will help decrease the chances of injury.
Manage walkways and worker zones. One of the milking barn’s biggest hazards to workers is the potential to slip, trip or fall while working in the milking area. Train workers to be aware of where their body, feet and limbs are in relation to the area around them. Install slip-resistant flooring where possible, maintain concrete by patching and report areas that are no longer safe. Take measures to prevent tripping, slipping or falling as a result of wet surfaces, oil spills, algal or manure buildup onto hard concrete surfaces.
Because fall risks during dairy production are so great, here are additional guidelines to consider:
- Build a schedule for flushing the lanes, and keep to it.
- Cover all open pits and ensure that those without have guard rails to prevent accidental falls.
- Install enough lighting to brightly light all work areas — day and night.
- Drainage on lanes should always be kept to a reasonable level.
- Move standing water away to drains and be sure enough slope exists on floors to draw fluids into drains.
- Keep required personal protective equipment stored and available for workers to wear at the start of each shift. Assign an employee to act as an internal compliance officer that inspects workers PPE, slip-resistant boots, etc.
- Keep your milking equipment properly maintained and sterilized as necessary to ensure you’re running a clean operation at all times.
Maintain fences. Moving dairy cows from the pasture or feed lot into the milking barn requires that handlers properly maintain fences to keep the livestock contained and predators out. Races, forcing pens and collecting pens should allow cattle to move safely and efficiently. They should be designed so workers can escape safely if they have to — to prevent them from getting crushed by livestock. So verity that gates and doors are properly hung and can open fully against the pen wall so that pressure against it won’t force it open and release livestock into an uncontained area. Train employees to never sit on or climb fences to prevent falls and other injuries.
Safety in relocating and transferring livestock. Whether you have a parallel or rotary parlor, transferring cows to and from it exposes workers to potential hazards. Remind inexperienced workers to be cautious with young cows that may be new to milking. Although older, more seasoned animals won’t hesitate when walking over a drainage grate or a puddle, cows new to milking may refuse to move in circumstances like these. And the same goes for training staff when moving livestock onto or off of trailers. If your operation requires that animals are transported by livestock trailers, they’re going to need training on the best ways to get them on and off safely.
Electrical hazards and shock prevention. Working with electricity in a wet and electrically conductive environment with metal grates and steel guard rails poses a high risk for electrocution in the milking barn, both to humans and animals. Be sure to perform regular maintenance on your electrical units and have your operation inspected by a licensed electrical contractor to ensure stray voltage isn’t impacting the health of the herd.
Minimizing chemical injuries. The chemicals used to sterilize and clean equipment present health risks to workers, livestock and even the environment around the milking parlor. Be sure your workers are following precautions listed on the chemical containers or the related materials safety data sheet so they’ll know the best way to handle these chemicals and how to manage accidents as well.
Dairy Production Safety and Working With Milking Equipment
In addition to the physical risks of working near livestock, dairy workers can also be exposed to biological hazards and animal-borne viruses if proper precautions are not taken. In addition to worker safety, improper handling of milk products or direct contact with biological materials like manure can potentially introduce these biohazards or chemicals into the food supply. Here are a few important tips so your workers can help to keep themselves and the milk they handle safe:
Know the pathogens and how to reduce risk. Biological hazards like bacteria, viruses and parasitic agents can be present in the dairy barn. Train workers on the best way to minimize exposure to these risks through adequate cleaning and sanitizing, properly labeling all materials in the barn and storing dangerous items in locked areas to prevent accidental exposure.
Work safely with milk solids. Workers should be trained to never drink raw milk, nor should they drink when pasteurizing milk. Regular milk is safe for consumption only after it’s been fully pasteurized and tested by your staff.
Adhere to standard operating procedures (SOPs). Building a routine for your staff to follow when transporting and working with milk products can help to improve safety and create a more predictable work production schedule. Review your SOPs from time to time to be sure they’re up to date.
Chemical and Physical Hazards and the Dairy Worker
When your employees understand the hazards commonly encountered in the dairy barn and around the milking carousel, they’ll be able to work more safely and you may find a decrease in worker downtime due to on-the-job injury or exposure. In addition to ensuring a sterile environment for gathering raw milk, your staff will also be handling antibacterial and antimicrobial chemicals. Discuss these tips with them so they’ll know how to operate safely in your milking barn.
Caring for the cow’s teats for milking, once they’re in a stall on the milking parlor or carousel, presents the worker with several hazards:
- Assure a sanitary condition for milking equipment by following a checklist of tasks assigned by a manager.
- Keep water use for cleaning teats to a minimum to prevent pathogens from dripping down the teat. Use teat wipes and thoroughly dry the teat before milking to prevent mastitis and keep bacteria levels in the milk products to a minimum.
- Pre-milking teat dip should last for at least 30 seconds to ensure the teat has been sterilized.
- Defer to using post-milking teat dip versus spraying because it’s a more thorough way of decreasing mastitis and reducing bacteria from colonizing in the teat canal.
- If you prefer to keep milking-related infections to a minimum with a disinfectant spray, use a pressurized spray bottle with a stainless steel head. Spray the entire teat, from both the left and right sides and wipe the utters down with paper towels afterward.
- Be sure workers use hot soapy water to wash hands after using the restroom and after they complete their shift.
To keep milking parlor hazards, exposure to pathogens and work-related injuries to a minimum, dairy managers need to observe and review worker performance from time to time. Have managers give employees real-time feedback to help them to improve their process and keep your milk products and livestock safer, too. While there’s no way to guarantee a completely safe operation, you can protect your investment by continuing to fine-tune the way work is done and by insuring it carefully as well. Contact your American Family Insurance agent to review your dairy farm’s optional coverages and be protected from the unexpected. You’ll find peace of mind knowing you’ve done all you can to keep your business safe so your dairy enterprise can prosper.