A few hundred Washington dairy workers will receive safety training developed by two university professors, as the industry responds to an uptick of on-the-job injuries, a dairy official told a House committee Monday.
Dan Wood, executive director of the Washington State Dairy Federation, said the organization hopes to get funding from the state to expand the program beyond this spring and offer the training to all dairy workers.
“I think the biggest motive is nobody wants to have their workers injured or killed,” Wood told the House Labor and Workplace Committee.
The committee held a work session on working conditions at dairies. Two farmworkers and representatives from the Washington State Labor Council and United Farm Workers complained about dangerous and unsanitary working conditions.
In tracking injuries, the state Department of Labor and Industries combines dairies and cattle ranching in one category. The rate of 10.6 injuries per 100 workers since 2009 is almost double the rate for all workers.
Dairies and cattle ranching, however, do not make the list of top 25 most hazardous occupations. Dave Bonauto, a physician and researcher with L&I, said dairies and cattle ranching rank about 70th in injury rate out of 269 industries.
Wood said injuries declined from 2009 to 2013 and then increased in 2014 and the first half of 2015. Figures for the last half of 2015 and 2016 are not yet compiled.
Wood said the industry wants to learn what’s causing the injuries. The state dairy federation’s annual meeting in November focused on safety, and more farmers attended, he said.
“I think everyone in the room agrees we want to decrease the overall rate of injury,” Wood said.
In the spring, the dairy federation hopes to introduce training funded by the U.S. Department of Labor and developed by New Mexico State professor Robert Hagevoort and University of Texas professor Dave Douphrate. The professors have been consultants to the Idaho Dairymen’s Association.
Wood said he hoped about 340 workers will get the initial training. The dairy federation has applied for a state grant to train all dairy workers over two years. Wood estimated the program will cost less than $200,000. There are about 3,000 workers involved in milk production, according to the state Department of Agriculture.
Aspects of the training include moving around livestock, handling chemicals and operating heavy equipment.
Dairies operate under the same workplace rules as other agricultural operations. A bill to create a separate and more stringent set of rules failed to pass last year. The bill was not re-introduced this year.
According to L&I figures, workers are more likely to be injured in some other types of agriculture, such as poultry and egg production, and crop farming.
UFW organizer Indira Trejo said she hears complaints from dairy workers daily and that the dairy industry should be pressed to show safety training will help workers.
Wood and Dominique Damian, a Washington Farm Bureau safety director, told lawmakers that the dairy industry has long embraced safety. The Farm Bureau has had a program to reduce injuries in agriculture since 1984.
“I’m actually glad for the opportunity we had today. I think what we shared with them was very positive news about the dairy industry’s efforts,” Wood said after the meeting.
Source: The Capital Press