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Safe and sound: The importance of dairy equipment safety

Kimberly Naffziger Published on 10 June 2013

From tractors to loaders, to machinery in the milking parlour, dairies depend on equipment to run their operations. The use of equipment allows dairies to operate more efficiently.

However, equipment required to run a dairy farm is one of the most common causes of death and serious injury on farms. According to Canadian Agricultural Injury Reporting, there were 11 fatal work-related injuries in agriculture per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers in 2008.



Worker safety should be a top priority, not only for the health of the employees but for the health of the dairy operation. Workplace incidents can have a major impact on the bottom line, including lost work time, repairing and replacing equipment, employee morale and higher insurance premiums.

Hazards and prevention on the dairy farm
Serious injuries and death can easily occur if dairy equipment is not used properly and kept in safe working condition. Missing guarding on tractors, loaders and feed trucks or wagons are contributing factors in serious injuries and fatalities, which are often a result of employees who fail to replace guards after making repairs or adjustments.

Another major contributor to injury in the milking parlour is when contact with equipment leads to hands and fingers getting caught, which is especially true in the case of fans, compressors and gates.

Additionally, there’s also the risk of electric shock when employees come into contact with equipment in the damp and wet environment that exists in milking parlours.

Routine operation of dairy equipment can also lead to serious injury or death when equipment is not properly locked or blocked out to prevent movement or exposure to moving parts during maintenance or repairs.

It is crucial that dairy owners and managers take important steps to prevent incidents involving equipment and machinery, including developing safety rules, training employees, safety inspections, lockout or tagout procedures and enforcing safety rules.

Develop safe work practices
Safe operating procedures include the following:

• Make sure roll-over protection (ROPS) and seat belts are available and used at all times. A high number of farming fatalities are due to tractor turnovers.

• Do not modify tractors, loaders, feed trucks or wagons from the manufacturer’s specifications. Only attachments and implements specifically designed for the equipment should be used.

• Maintain all guards and safety devices in place at all times. This includes PTO shields, PTO shaft guards, cowlings, safety switches, etc.

• Mount and dismount properly by using handholds, steps and other devices at all times. Maintain three-point contact when mounting or dismounting.

• Travel at safe speeds if required to drive on streets or farm roadways and use flashers and warning lights at all times.

• Do not allow riders on tractors or equipment unless it has been specifically designed for additional workers.

• Employees working on the ground and around equipment should wear high-visibility clothing or vests.

• Replace frayed extension cords and damaged plugs.

• Use an electrical system and equipment grounding that meet requirements of the Canadian Electric Code.

• Use ground-fault circuit interrupters with stock water heaters, power tools and other equipment.

• Make sure fuse boxes, switches and electrical outlets in wet areas are moisture-proof.

• Maintain grounds on electrical equipment to prevent stray voltage.

• Store or stack rags and other debris away from electrical panels.

• Electrical panels should always have a clear space of at least 3 feet in front of them.

Prior to employees working on any equipment, it is important they understand safe operating procedures. Training should take place:

• Immediately for new hires

• When a new piece of equipment, procedure or process is introduced

• After an incident or near-miss occurs

Lockout and blockout procedures
A high number of fatalities can be attributed to neglecting tractor PTOs. Develop procedures and train employees on lockout and blockout.

Authorized employees should be trained to follow these procedures when completing maintenance and repairs on equipment. This training should occur when initially assigned and periodically throughout the year, and all training should be documented.

The following should be enforced to employees:

• Only trained and authorized personnel should complete maintenance, service or repair on any dairy equipment.

• Lock or block out equipment to prevent movement or exposure to moving parts when service or repair work is conducted.

Safety inspections
Conducting safety inspections is an important element in preventing incidents. Inspect areas around the dairy periodically to determine if hazards exist. Complete safety inspections of the equipment and machinery.

A safety inspection checklist can identify hazards that need to be corrected before an incident occurs, as well as documenting the inspections. The operator’s manual is a useful resource to develop safety inspection checklists. The following points should be included on the checklist:

• Inspect all equipment before use and prior to each shift.

• Ensure flashers and warning lights on equipment are working.

• Ensure all guards are in place, including PTO shields, PTO shaft guards, cowlings, safety switches and belts and chains.

• Compressors and other equipment should be properly guarded.

• Replace all guards after making repairs or adjustments.

• All identified hazards should be reported to a supervisor immediately and if necessary the equipment should be taken out of service.

Serious and sometimes fatal injuries can occur on a dairy. In many cases, equipment on the farm or in the milking parlour is the cause.


The first step is to train your employees on the hazards and safe work practice to ensure understanding; equally important is enforcement of safety rules. In addition, inspections can go a long way in identifying potential problems early so that the hazard can be eliminated.  PD

Kimberly Naffziger
Agricultural Specialist
Zenith Insurance Company