It hasn’t been all that long since Ryan DeWit was milking cows on his family’s dairy in Friona, Texas, but now he’s helping Idaho dairy farmers keep their workers safe through a unique training program.
The Idaho Dairy Worker Safety and Training Program is a collaboration of Idaho Dairymen’s Association and Idaho Milk Processors Association to provide training to dairy workers across the state.
While the first phase of the program was developed with university expertise and continues to be expanded with that expertise, DeWit heads up the practical on-the-ground training to promote worker health and safety.
“We provide dairy workers with training and educational content focused on general farm safety and animal handling,” he said.
The goal of the program is to initiate safer interaction between workers and cows and educate workers on farmwide safety when it comes to such things as equipment and electricity. It’s aimed at ensuring they go home safely at the end of the day, he said.
The program is the proactive response by dairy farmers and processors to heighten worker training and safety after a dairy worker fatality in February 2016. That worker drowned in a waste pond after mistakenly driving a feed truck into the pond in pre-dawn hours during flooded conditions.
To prevent future tragedies, IDA engaged experts in worker safety and training. Idaho’s dairy processors committed to the effort soon after.
IDA contracted with David Douphrate, assistant professor of epidemiology, human genetics and environmental sciences at the University of Texas, and Robert Hagevoort, extension dairy specialist at the New Mexico State University, to develop a program.
DeWit met Hagevoort through the U.S. Dairy Education and Training Consortium, and Hagevoort referred him to IDA to facilitate the training.
DeWit uses iPads with headphones to deliver individualized training in English and Spanish and can deliver that training in groups of up to 20 workers.
“It’s always fun for me to explain why I’m here and why it’s important to have safety training,” he said.
The bottom line is having workers go home to their families intact, he said.
Some workers are a little intimidated at first, but they soon discover their trainer grew up milking cows and clearing water troughs and respond favorably. And they appreciate that the dairy owner is investing in their training, he said.
The iPad training session is followed by a live animal handling session. Workers often do the “what” of the job but don’t know the “why” of safety issues and animal handling. Helping them see things from a cow’s perspective allows them to predict the cow’s behavior and get the animal to do what the workers want them to and avoid injury, he said.
“At the end of the day, we’re helping employees recognize those hazards on the dairy,” he said.
He encourages managers and owners to participate in the worker training because it reinforces how important safety is and creates a dialogue of safety on the dairy.
“My mission with this role is to help Idaho’s dairymen improve the safety culture on their dairies while providing consumers’ assurance that our workforce is working in a safe environment and is well-trained,” he said.
The program began in August 2017, and DeWit has trained more than 500 workers at 25 dairies with 50 milking barns. But there’s more to do, with 500 dairies and an estimated 8,000 employees in the state.
He’s also given a three-day “train the trainer” workshop for processor and co-op field personnel and plans more in the future to broaden the reach of the training program and reinforce safety concepts. He also offers safety, compliance and record-keeping consulting to owners and managers.
Additional training is being developed to cover a broader array of safety issues on the dairy, such as safe feeding and safe maternity care.
Idaho’s program has also caught the attention of National Milk Producers Federation, which has pulled together a task force to address safety issues in response to consumer concerns.
“This is an issue that affects the industry as a whole,” he said.
IDA will play a key role in developing a safety manual that will be part of the NMPF’s Farmers Assuring Responsible Management program.
“At the end of the day, I think we’ll have a solution for dairymen that’s workable, effective and user-friendly,” he said.
Occupation: Dairy worker training and safety specialist
Employer: Idaho Dairymen’s Association, IDA Consulting
Home: Twin Falls, Idaho
Education: Master’s degree (2017) and bachelor’s degree (2016) in Agribusiness, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas
Family: Wife, Kathryn
By: Ryan Dumas
Source: Capital Press