cows in field

OSHA Assists in Identifying and Managing Dairy Farm Hazards

By Nick Donofrio, CAS – OSHA Region 2, New York State

What do construction, mining and farming have in common? Each year these occupations appear on the top-ten list of the most dangerous industries in America. However, a closer look at the injury data shows the total injury rates for construction and mining have decreased significantly, while farming’s total injury rates remain high. According to the 2019 Bureau of Labor Statistics injury data, a worker was nearly 4.5 times more likely to sustain a serious injury while employed on a farm than in mining, and nearly twice as likely to have a serious injury working on a farm than on a construction site. Farming remains a dangerous occupation and dairy farming has the added hazard of working with large animals on an almost constant basis.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recognizes the unique hazards that dairy farms present to worker safety. Eight years ago, OSHA began an inspection program in Wisconsin directed at identifying hazards on dairy farms. More importantly, the program created an opportunity for OSHA to talk with dairy farmers about safety improvements to protect workers from injury and in some cases death. In 2018, a five-year local emphasis inspection program began in OSHA Region 2 (New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands). Specific to New York State, the instructions used by inspectors is contained within the OSHA Directive 2019-03. (OSHA Region 2 Dairy Farm LEP (

Coining the phrase: “Dairy Dozen”, OSHA described twelve common hazard areas identified by safety inspectors of dairy farms that all producers would be well served to take a closer look at in their operations:

  1. Manure Storage and collection facilities – Manure pits and channels under the barn are a confined space, i.e. these areas have limited entry/exit and people are not meant to be there on a regular basis. For large earthen storages with sloped sides, when placing any equipment such as agitation pumps or rolling stock on the inside slope, a barrier strong enough to stop a slow moving tractor or skid loader from entering the storage pit is required.
  2. Dairy bull and cow movement and worker position- Handling large animals is a high hazard activity. Slips, trips and falls are common hazards in all industries and possibly a greater hazard in the milking parlors of a dairy farm due to wet surfaces and frequent cleaning. Proper lighting, body position awareness and planning an escape route when moving between an animal and stationary objects are important factors to consider to avoid being pinned.
  3. Electrical systems – Most farms practice some form of lockout procedures, but don’t forget to add tags to identify the person responsible for the lock. Also, lessen the use of extension cords and relocatable power taps, i.e. power strips. Check the labels, but unless specifically approved, most of these devices are not suitable for use outside the home.
  4. Skid Steer loader operation – This equipment is considered a powered industrial vehicle by OSHA. Employees need to be trained, evaluated and certified in writing that they are qualified to operate this vehicle type.
  5. Tractor operation - All tractors need roll over protection systems (ROPS) and seat belts. Tractor operators and all other equipment operators must be trained before assigned to the equipment.
  6. Guard power take-offs – Use either a master shield or other protective device to guard these rotating shafts. Make sure ALL farm tractors and equipment have proper shields in place and that they are replaced after repairs are made.
  7. Guarding other power transmission and functional components – All power driven belts, pulleys, sprockets, chains, sheaves, etc., must be guarded.
  8. Hazardous energy control while performing service and maintenance on equipment – At the time of initial assignment and at least annually thereafter, the employer shall instruct every employee in the safe operation and servicing of all farm equipment (farm field and stationary) with which they will be involved.
  9. Hazard Communications – Maintain a Safety Data Sheet (SDS) for every hazardous chemical used on the farm, such as: teat dips, hoof care products, sanitization products, degreasers, acids, etc. Train each employee on the hazards of the chemicals they use. Maintain a written hazard communication program describing how you manage these chemicals on your farm including container labeling and emergency procedures in case of a spill.
  10. Confined spaces – Know what confine spaces are and post a sign or label to alert employees of the hazards and prevent unauthorized entry.
  11. Horizontal bunker silos – Be aware of fall hazards while placing and removing protective covering and anchoring systems. Create safety procedures for work in and on these areas and conduct a safety review with crew before each filling period.
  12. Noise – Noise loss is permanent so use hearing protection around noisy machines and equipment.

There are limits to the size of dairy farms OSHA can inspect. Farms, which employ less than 10 employees (excluding family members of farm employers) currently and at all times during the last 12 months, AND have not had an active temporary labor camp during the preceding 12 months, are exempt from inspection under this local emphasis program. However, a farming operation with 10 or fewer employees that maintains a temporary labor camp or has maintained a temporary labor camp within the last 12 months CAN be inspected. For more information on the size and employment circumstances refer to the specifics described in the local emphasis inspection program. (See OSHA Region 2 LEP.)

During the last two years, there have been more than 160 inspections of dairy farms by state and federal safety inspectors throughout the country. Seventy seven (77) of these have been in the state of California with nine occurring in Wisconsin and five in New York. Some of the more frequently cited violations of safety and health regulations involved guarding of rotating shafts, power take-offs, and chain sprockets. Nearly a third of the inspections conducted by federal regulators found that employees were not informed about the hazards of the chemicals they use. As part of the Hazard Communication regulation, OSHA requires employers to train each employee who handles hazardous chemicals on the proper use, storage, protective equipment and what to do in case they contact the material. Employers need to maintain a safety data sheet (SDS) for each hazardous chemical found on their farm. Examples of hazardous chemicals found on dairy farms might be footbath solutions, chemicals used to clean milk tanks and to sanitize equipment. Degreasing solvents, oil based paint, diesel fuel and gasoline are also examples of hazardous chemicals, but check the safety data sheets (SDS) to make sure. Finally, employers need to have a written Hazard Communication program, which describes how they manage the hazardous chemicals found on their farm, the container labeling system, where SDS are stored, how employees are trained, etc.

Dairy farmers should also be familiar with the agricultural safety standards found in the Code of Federal Registry, 29 CFR 1928. Agricultural Safety Standards ( The registry describes the safety and health standards applicable to dairy farms, regardless of size. Farmers can find several of the “Dairy Dozen” safety requirements in these regulations, as well as field sanitation and occupational health standards.

Many resources are available to assist farmers to create and develop farm safety and health programs. Beyond farm cooperatives and associations, many states offer a free consultative service to assist farmers to develop or strengthen their safety and health programs. These consultants conduct a mock OSHA inspection (without the fines, penalties or notifying OSHA), issue a written report, work with farmers to help correct hazards and provide training. Grants may be available to offset some of the training costs. Each state offers a free consultative service, particularly aimed at assisting small businesses. Check the OSHA website for the contact information about the agency responsible for safety consultation in your state. You can find this information at

Requesting consultative services in New York is as easy as emailing or contacting the nearest NYS Labor Department or calling 1-888-4-NYSDOL (1-888-469-7365).

Many OSHA Enforcement Directives include outreach and compliance assistance as an integral component. Compliance Assistance Specialists (CAS) are responsible for coordinating assistance in complying with federal agricultural safety standards. Some of you may have worked with Ron Williams, CAS with the OSHA Syracuse area office. Ron has retired and Nick Donofrio, CAS – OSHA Region 2 is now the contact for help and assistance with understanding the regulatory requirements of the Dairy LEP, or other safety and health questions or concerns.

Nick Donofrio can be reached at or 716-796-0803.