Creating a Culture of Farm Safety

04 May 2022
Farmworkers milking cows

By Dan Baker, University of Vermont & Jed Davis, Agri-Mark/Cabot 

The University of Vermont (UVM) was awarded a $350,000 grant from the Northeast Dairy Business Innovation Center to develop and deliver a dairy farmworker safety training program in conjunction with regional support organizations. The training will be responsive to needs identified by the farmworker community and offered in both English and Spanish. 

The dairy farmers who have the longest careers in agriculture are those who have spent some time thinking about and prioritizing farm safety. Large dairy cows, heavy machinery, repetitive motion, and farm chemicals are just a few of the daily encounters that farmers and farmworkers must consider.  And while some other industries have seen injury rates decline over time, the rate of farm accidents has remained stubbornly high. 

As the size of average Vermont dairy farms has grown, so has the need for many farms to hire non-family labor to help milk the cows, care for youngstock, fix equipment and manage cropland. Chronic labor shortages have been challenging. To make up for this shortfall, Vermont farmers have turned to migrant labor, mostly from Mexico and Guatemala, to help keep their farms running. Most of these workers are employed as milkers and Vermont dairy depends heavily on these workers.   

A migrant Spanish-speaking workforce with related cross-cultural communications issues and safety concerns adds to the challenge farmers face running their business safely and efficiently. Many Latino migrant farmworkers are relatively new to dairy, without the background knowledge of those raised in a dairy environment. In farmer surveys in 2010 and 2018 we found many farmers relying on off-farm translators and hand-signals to communicate with their employees. While the situation has gotten better with technology, such as cell phone translator apps, explaining risk in an already challenging environment remains difficult. In fact, in two research studies of Latino dairy workers in 2016 and 2018/19, UVM researchers found that concern about being injured on a dairy farm was among the top sources of farmworker stress reported by migrant dairy farmworkers. 

Vermont has not had a comprehensive farm safety training program since George Cook at UVM Extension and Louise Waterman from the Vermont Agency of Agriculture ran their program more than five years ago. The state has never had a statewide Spanish-language dairy farm safety training program. With funding from the Northeast Dairy Business Innovation Center, that situation is changing. The University of Vermont and Agri-Mark/Cabot are teaming up with the Northeast Center for Occupational Health and Safety to offer free farm safety training programs in both English and Spanish. 

Beginning this spring, UVM Extension will interview both farmers and farmworkers about the farm safety training in which they are most interested. Subsequent trainings based on the interviews will be offered on-farm and will be tailored to the specific circumstances and interests of that farm. Some farm safety issues require more than training; they require changes in behavior and perspective. Next year, projects will offer farms an opportunity to explore strategiesBy Dan Baker, University of Vermont & Jed Davis, Agri-Mark/Cabot 

The University of Vermont (UVM) was awarded a $350,000 grant from the Northeast Dairy Business Innovation Center to develop and deliver a dairy farmworker safety training program in conjunction with regional support organizations. The training will be responsive to needs identified by the farmworker community and offered in both English and Spanish. 

The dairy farmers who have the longest careers in agriculture are those who have spent some time thinking about and prioritizing farm safety. Large dairy cows, heavy machinery, repetitive motion, and farm chemicals are just a few of the daily encounters that farmers and farmworkers must consider.  And while some other industries have seen injury rates decline over time, the rate of farm accidents has remained stubbornly high. 

As the size of average Vermont dairy farms has grown, so has the need for many farms to hire non-family labor to help milk the cows, care for youngstock, fix equipment and manage cropland. Chronic labor shortages have been challenging. To make up for this shortfall, Vermont farmers have turned to migrant labor, mostly from Mexico and Guatemala, to help keep their farms running. Most of these workers are employed as milkers and Vermont dairy depends heavily on these workers.   

A migrant Spanish-speaking workforce with related cross-cultural communications issues and safety concerns adds to the challenge farmers face running their business safely and efficiently. Many Latino migrant farmworkers are relatively new to dairy, without the background knowledge of those raised in a dairy environment. In farmer surveys in 2010 and 2018 we found many farmers relying on off-farm translators and hand-signals to communicate with their employees. While the situation has gotten better with technology, such as cell phone translator apps, explaining risk in an already challenging environment remains difficult. In fact, in two research studies of Latino dairy workers in 2016 and 2018/19, UVM researchers found that concern about being injured on a dairy farm was among the top sources of farmworker stress reported by migrant dairy farmworkers. 

Vermont has not had a comprehensive farm safety training program since George Cook at UVM Extension and Louise Waterman from the Vermont Agency of Agriculture ran their program more than five years ago. The state has never had a statewide Spanish-language dairy farm safety training program. With funding from the Northeast Dairy Business Innovation Center, that situation is changing. The University of Vermont and Agri-Mark/Cabot are teaming up with the Northeast Center for Occupational Health and Safety to offer free farm safety training programs in both English and Spanish. 

Beginning this spring, UVM Extension will interview both farmers and farmworkers about the farm safety training in which they are most interested. Subsequent trainings based on the interviews will be offered on-farm and will be tailored to the specific circumstances and interests of that farm. Some farm safety issues require more than training; they require changes in behavior and perspective. Next year, projects will offer farms an opportunity to explore strategies with the aim of achieving a culture of safety on Vermont dairy farms.  

For more information, please contact Dan Baker at UVM: daniel.baker@uvm.edu or Jed Davis at Agri-Mark/Cabot: jdavis@cabotcheese.coop 

Contact Information

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