By CYRIL TUOHY, managing editor of Risk & Insurance®
An Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announcement last month that the agency will increase inspections of dairy farms in Wisconsin is not only a sign of the government agency's determination to enforce safety laws. It is also a sign of just how dangerous farming remains throughout the United States, according to the most recent preliminary figures issued by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
"The bottom line is we want all farms to do what they can to create a safe environment for its workforce," said Mary Bauer, an OSHA compliance assistant specialist with the agency's Eau Claire, Wis., field office, speaking at the annual meeting of the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin.
Mergers among Wisconsin dairy farms in the past two years have made the remaining farms larger, and inspections of those farms have revealed more violations.
Shelly Mayer, executive director of the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin, said the key to a better safety record is to educate dairy farmers on the dangers of farming.
"Anything we can do to increase awareness to protect human lives is a good thing," Mayer said. Her organization represents about 12,500 dairy farms in the state.
Dairy farms have different operating styles, and rules that govern farms should not be a one-size-fits-all proposition--hence a focus on education instead of enforcement, Mayer said
From tractor rollovers to raging bulls to tumbling hay bales, farming is a dangerous occupation, with much of the work conducted by migrant workers.
TOPS AMONG TOP 5 DEADLIEST OCCUPATIONS
The labor statistical category for dairy farming, which includes all agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, reported 26 fatal work-related injuries per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers in 2009, the latest year for which numbers are available. That gives this occupational category the highest ratio among all categories.
Its fatality rate is more than double the No. 2 deadliest category, the mining sector with its 12.7 fatal work-related injuries per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers, the BLS statistics reveal. Transportation and warehousing (12.1 fatal injuries), construction (9.7 fatal injuries) and wholesale trade (4.9 fatal injuries) round out the top five deadliest occupations.
There were a total of 551 deaths reported in 2009 in agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, up from 286 fatalities reported in 2008. A total of 4,340 workers died in 2009 in all sectors, down 17 percent from 5,214 in 2008.
Last April, OSHA issued citations to Val-O-Mo Farm Inc., a 550-acre farm in Elmwood, Wis., following the death of a migrant worker in October 2009. The worker fell off a platform and suffocated in a manure slurry pit.
The pits, created by hosing and flushing manure from pens and stables, turn into large pools of anaerobic fermentation as bacteria break down the manure.
The farm was fined $7,200 following an OSHA inspection that revealed six serious code violations, according to an article in Occupational Health and Safety magazine.
Luis A. Enriq, 16, died on April 26, 2009, at Couto Dairy, one of California's 1,905 farms, when he suffered internal injuries after a bull struck him and rammed him into a steel post. The farm was not fined.
In Idaho in another incident, 26-year-old Alexandro J. Dominguez died on New Year's Day 2009 at the DeRuyter Dairy Inc., after he was thrown from a hay loader's window and crushed when the machine rolled over him.
OSHA fined DeRuyter $3,750 and cited it for not providing any equipment training.
In New Mexico, Emeterio "Tao" Godinez, 47, was crushed to death on July 3, 2009, by a 1,800-pound hay bale that fell 15 feet from a haystack at the Boyd Brothers Ranch.
Of the 680 total foreign-born workers in all job categories who suffered fatal occupational injuries in 2009, 40 percent were from Mexico, 20 percent from Asia, 11 percent from Europe, 9 percent from Central America, 8 percent from the Caribbean, 5 percent from Africa, 4 percent from South America, 2 percent from Canada and 1 percent from all other nations, according to BLS data.
April 18, 2011
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