As dairy producers, do we know how to describe the way we want the milking parlor to operate? Certainly “efficient”, “clean” and “productive” come quickly to mind. But do we consciously include “safety” on that priority list? When asked, we probably answer that we all want to work safely in the milking parlor! Certainly there are many great reasons we have for being in the dairy business, but facing danger every day is not one that we want to brag about. What are we willing to do to make 100% sure that the milking parlor is a safe place?
We have a problem. Whose safety are we concerned about?
There are many dangerous places on a dairy farm. At the top of the list is the milking parlor. With its 24/7 schedule and the combination of cows, people and equipment all coming together in one place, it isn’t surprising that insurance companies report that every year dairy workers sustain serious injuries. Of course, that list can quickly expand to include the cattle that are in and out of this location on a daily basis. There is the potential to create a world of hurt for both cows and people. Of course, we must be ready to admit that “to err is human” and then, having said that, do everything possible to make sure that a safer milking parlor is an accepted responsibility.
NINE Milking Parlor Dangers and How to Avoid Them
If you have ever tried to sit down to create or recall all the possible safety issues that can occur in a milking parlor, you will have created a long list. Today at The Bullvine we are looking at ten main areas to consider when making your milking parlor a safe place for workers – both human and bovine.
- Heading for a Fall
Milking parlor safety issues can begin outside of the milking parlor. When cows are being moved to the parlor from pens or barns, they can walk through, mud, manure and other environmental situations that mean they are tracking wet materials into the parlor and thus contributing to potential safety issues. Dairy workers are also transmitters of materials that can cause slips. Wear proper, well-maintained footwear that has good slip resistance features.
- Slips, Lapses, and Mistakes
Once inside the parlor the very water that is used to keep the area clean can be a problem if it creates slippery surfaces. Someone will have the responsibility for keeping floors clean, but that must also include being alert to situations where there is too much water. Lack of traction on excessively smooth or wet surfaces is a hazard. Hopefully, original planning ensured that the flooring provides slip-resistant footing for both staff and livestock with a roughened surface on concrete ramps and floors in animal facilities. If this isn’t in place, the mistake in design must be corrected. Once that is in place, you must guard against water, milk or algal buildup on concrete surfaces. Anything that spills from wet feed to manure can contribute to slippery surfaces and dangerous footing. Here again, proper footwear is a necessary part of milking parlor safety preparedness.
- There’s No Such Thing as a Good Trip — in the Milking Parlor
Tripping can also be caused by different floor levels, broken concrete, and obstacles. Open drains or drainage holes should be covered with a firm, flush-fitting grate. Encourage everyone who works in the milking parlor to report damaged or pitted concrete so it can be repaired. Make sure to put in place a regular resurfacing or maintenance plan. Ensure that all open pits and drains have covers or guard rails. You may think that everyone is familiar with particular situations, but accidents are exacerbated by fatigue, multitasking and lack of communication. Have SOPs (standard operating procedures) in place and provide regular training updates in all aspects of equipment maintenance and safe operation. Raise standards wherever and whenever possible.
- Control the Hazards of Hoses
As previously mentioned (#1), water can be a major contributor to safety hazards. Make sure hoses, pipes and taps are maintained at all times and that they are not causing ongoing drips or leaks. Schedule complete flushes and visual checkups for walking lanes. Provide storage for hoses or pressure washers so that the equipment itself does not become a tripping hazard. Hoses and other obstacles should be secured to the walls and kept out of the way. Hoses – when under pressure — can produce whiplash injuries. Injuries also can occur when hoses The injury can be caused by the whipping hose itself, blowing debris or the release of high-pressure or high-temperature water. Always be alert for ways to reduce risks of injury.
- Safety Starts on the Drawing Board
Good design makes safety a priority. We all know how badly designed steps can create a daily and very dangerous hazard. Lighting, surfaces, functional storage and equipment access and maintenance need to be built into the work area. After that, one must acknowledge that safety issues can also arise from lack of skills or mechanical error. This also means planning for and writing down planned Safe milking parlors always have checklists in place to make sure there aren’t breakdowns in the following three areas: (1) communication, (2) training and (3) teamwork. The goal is to make sure that you have enough of all three. If you skimp on any one of these standards, you will see a corresponding rise in unsafe situations.
- People Must Be Prepared to Work Safely
Some safety measures are as simple as being appropriately dressed for the work that is carried out in a milking parlor. Waterproof clothing, proper footwear and correct gloves for specific situations, all contribute to working safely. Chemicals used for washing and cleaning equipment are potential hazards for staff, animals, and the milking parlor environment, and all precautions should be observed. Another potential hazard often associated with milking time is the accidental inoculation of veterinary drugs when administering routine shots, such as hormones in the Ovsynch program. Women should not administer shots in the Ovsynch program, especially if they are pregnant. Regularly scheduled training in all aspects of safety, including biosecurity, can be a definite asset in making sure that your milking parlor is safe, productive and risk-free
- Electrical Safety in the Milking Parlor
It goes without saying that all electrical equipment must be kept in good repair. Updating lighting in older facilities increases visibility and should be adequate for both day and night operations. Seek experienced advice on avoiding electric shock hazards in the milking parlor. Always use an electrical system and equipment grounding that meet requirements of the national electric code. Use ground fault circuit interrupter with stock water heaters, power tools, and other equipment. Make sure fuse boxes, switches, and electrical outlets in wet areas are moisture proof. Avoid the risks which result from using homemade or temporary electrical solutions.
- Don’t Make Milking a Risky Business!
Sometimes we become so familiar with the work we do in the milking parlor, that we become complacent. This can lead to inattentiveness and could cause safety lapses. Even worse are lapses in good judgment. The milking parlor is not the place to climb on or sit on gates or railings. As much as a good working atmosphere is much to be desired, the milking parlor is not the place to participate in horse play. What starts as harmless fun can too easily escalate into a dangerous situation. Don’t play the blame game. Hold all individuals responsible for working safely in the milk house.
- Animal Awareness
Last but by no means least in working safely in the milking parlor is anything that involves how working safely with dairy cows. Throughout the milking process, staff must move cattle into, around and out of the milking parlor. There are many opportunities for accidents to occur. While experience will always improve animal handling, it is the responsibility of those who manage the milking parlor to make sure that there is sufficient training. There are typical behaviors that can be expected from bovines … such as kicking forward and out to the side. Unfortunately, sick animals do not behave normally and care must be taking in working around an animal that is suffering from a condition such as mastitis or that is agitated because of unfamiliar procedures or caregivers.
The Bullvine Bottom Line
As with the maintenance of any well-oiled machine, milking parlor safety protocols can always use a tune-up. A milking parlor relies on many moving parts to get the job done, and all of the parts have to run efficiently from pre-milking to post-milking to ensure milking parlor safety for everyone — human or bovine. Check your operation’s benchmarks in the areas discussed. The priorities should always be threefold: Reduce risks. Raise standards. Be safe.