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Covid Blog Worker Safety Dairy Operations

Worker Safety and Dairy Operations

Nifa Authors
Guest Author, Communications Office
Guest Author
David Douphrate, PhD, Occupational Ergonomics and Safety, University of Texas School of Public Health

Dairy farms are getting larger with increasing herd sizes. Meanwhile, the total number of farms continues to decrease. More cows on a farm requires more workers on a farm. The more workers on a farm, the greater the risk of spreading the COVID-19 virus. That’s what we are trying to address.

Photo of father and son at dairy farm, courtesy of Getty Images
Our project, “COVID 19 in the U.S. dairy industry: development, delivery and evaluation of training resources for producers and workers” was funded by USDA-NIFA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, part of the COVID-19 Rapid Response grant program.

This project is primarily focused on conducting COVID-19 training for rural farming areas of three dairy-producing states: Idaho, New Mexico, and Texas. In these states, we have found a limited supply of personal protective equipment such as masks for workers, and hand sanitizer was in limited supply.  There is an increased risk of spreading the airborne virus in certain work areas such as the milking parlor because workers stand in close proximity to each other. Often times dairy workers live with each other under the same roof, and drive or ride together to work. They may also live with other immigrants who work at the local meat plant (which has its own issues with COVID infections). Yet these immigrant workers (mostly male, average age 30, limited English) are deemed “essential,” so they continue to work during the pandemic.

We are developing and delivering informational training resources to mitigate infection and transmission among workers. We have developed mobile learning resources (training vignettes on mobile devices such as iPads). Our training vignettes are provided in English, Spanish, and a Central American language called K’iche’. We teach how to prevent COVID-19 transmission in the workplace, such as: hand hygiene practices, proper mask wear, personal protective equipment, coworker distancing, food sharing and food delivery, how to effectively clean uniforms, and how to disinfect surfaces. We also teach at-home COVID-19 prevention, such as: hand hygiene, disinfecting surfaces, increasing indoor ventilation, quarantining, stocking up food for 14 days, caretaker assignment, and main virus symptoms. We have three different training versions: for owners, producers, and for the herdsmen. And we strive to keep the training brief--we don’t want to pull the workers off their job for more than 20-30 minutes. More recently, with the rollout of vaccines, we have developed new training materials to educate workers of the vaccines. We have produced a question and answer video with an occupational physician who answered questions on the COVID vaccine. This has also been translated into English, Spanish and K’iche’.

This funding mechanism by USDA-NIFA has enabled the development and delivery of important training resources which will help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in a vulnerable working population. 


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