New Year brings new OSHA safety regulations for dairy farms

CEW-MR-1-OSHA1by Elizabeth A. Tomlin

In an effort to help dairy farmers understand new regulations becoming effective this year, a ‘work group’ including the Soil & Water Conservation District, NY Farm Bureau, Cornell Cooperative Extension and the New York Center for Agriculture and Medicine are hosting informational meetings concerning the Local Emphasis Program (LEP); an OSHA Inspection Program for Dairy Farms.

One meeting took place in Canajoharie, NY, where NY OSHA Compliance Assistant Specialist Ron Williams spoke to an audience of dairy farmers about the LEP regulations.

“Dairy farm operations are exempt if they employ 10 or fewer employees currently or in the last 12 months,” Williams clarified. “And have not had an active temporary labor camp during the last 12 months.”

Williams explained that family members do not count as employees and the total count of employees would have to be 11 or more on any day, prior to the inspection, for OSHA to have jurisdiction. He noted that one part-time employee equals one full-time employee.

Williams explained a ‘temporary labor camp’ as housing any number of temporary employees — even if it is only one — in the 12 months previous to inspection.

“Employees that are here for a specific time period. They’re seasonal, here on a visa, here for a specific crop, here for one year, or plan on going back to their home country next year.”

Random, unannounced compliance inspections are based on four priorities with imminent danger leading the list. “We get hundreds of calls at our office every day,” said Williams. He gave an example of a report of employees working on a barn roof with no fall protection. “We’re going to send somebody out to take a look at that operation if there’s imminent danger. Our concern is to make sure that all employees are provided with safe working conditions.”

The second priority for investigation concerns catastrophes or fatal accidents. When three or more employees are admitted to the hospital, it’s considered a catastrophe.

“By law, you’ve got to contact OSHA within an hour. Doesn’t matter if it’s Sunday morning, 2 o’clock in the morning, that phone is manned 24:7, we’re going to pick up that phone. If you have a fatality or three or more employees are admitted to the hospital, you’ve got to call,” Williams emphasized.

The third priority for inspection would be through formal or non-formal complaints and referrals. This could be by police, former employees or anyone with a complaint.

Programmed inspections are fourth on the list of priorities.

“Dairy farms have a high injury/illness rate,” stated Williams. This is why OSHA is targeting them.

Statistics show that in 1970 there were 28,000 dairy farms in New York State. However, by 2007 that number dropped to 5,683. Although there was an 80 percent decrease in the number of dairy farms, the amount of cows and milk produced has increased. A correlating increase in fatalities is suggested to be due to the increase of cows and workload on individual farms.

Williams gave examples of recent fatalities including a 23-year-old employee that was run over by a feed truck in a barn and died from his injuries. A worker that entered a tanker used for hauling manure was overcome by methane gas when he was cleaning the tank, a second, 27-year-old, worker attempted to rescue the first worker and died of affixation. While working alone, a 46-year-old non-English speaking migrant worker was trampled to death when moving cows to the milking parlor. In another incident a 42-year-old worker was killed when struck by a bucket of a skid-steer in a barn.

“This is why we developed the Local Emphasis Program, because of the fatalities and injuries that are occurring statewide,” Williams explained.

Statistics also show that approximately 243 agricultural workers suffer work loss daily due to farm related injuries, of which 5 percent result in permanent injury.

Tractor overturns are a leading cause of death for farm workers and Williams noted that New York State has a very successful rollover protection (ROPS) rebate program.

Williams advises training all employees in all of their required tasks and having them sign a document stating the date that the training took place. Employees should also be made aware of any chemicals they may be in contact with and should be supplied with the necessary safety equipment for protection in all areas of their work.

Employees should understand possible situations and hazards. An inventory of any hazardous materials and equipment should be taken. Emergency preparedness should be addressed. Seat belts on all equipment should be used.

Williams calls the 12 most common hazards on the dairy farm “the dairy dozen.”

These hazards include, but are not limited to: manure storage and collection structures, dairy bull and cow behavior/worker positioning, electrical systems, skid steer operation, tractor operation, guarding of PTOs, other farm and farmstead equipment and machine guarding, lockout and unexpected energy release in maintenance, hazard communication, confined spaces, horizontal bunker silos, and noise. Specific information on the dairy dozen can be found at www.nycamh.com/osha-ny-dairy-lep/ .

An OSHA LEP ‘Training Binder’, developed with safety standards from safety organizations, government and industry sources, is available and includes a complete farm safety checklist to conduct self-administered audits.

“This LEP takes a two prong approach to compliance; outreach and enforcement,” commented Christopher Adams, CIH CSP Area Director for OSHA. “Through outreach activities we are educating farmers on what hazards are on the farm and how to fix them. We know that no farmers want their employees to be hurt, and by addressing the hazards that we’ve identified, they can prevent injuries from occurring in the first place.”

NY Farm Bureau Public Affairs Manager Steve Ammerman agrees. “Farming has been one of the most dangerous professions that a person can choose,” stated Ammerman. “However, family and employee safety has always been at the forefront of farm management. It is important our largest industry strives to maintain the safety of its farm families and employees because it’s not only their work, but their lives and pride of what they do.”

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