International Dairy Research Consortium Meeting at CSU Highlights Health, Safety in Changing Industry

Dairy is a dynamic industry, and there has been a significant change in worker demographics in the dairy industry across the globe. Today the industry depends largely on immigrant employees working long hours at a high pace, under difficult environmental and social conditions.

To address challenges of the modern dairy industry, Colorado State University will host the International Dairy Research Consortium July 25-26. The workshop will focus on worker health and safety issues related to the dairy industry worldwide.

“As dairies have increased in size, the labor needs are being met by immigrant workers globally,” said Stephen Reynolds, director, High Plains Intermountain Center for Agricultural Health and Safety (HICAHS) at CSU and organizer of the workshop. “The inexperienced workers are at greater risk for injury, ergonomic and respiratory illness and a number of other problems. Our group is working to help the industry with knowledge and risk management resources to sustain a healthy productive workforce.”

The group will explore dairy research and outreach opportunities in economically developing regions and develop collaborative research and outreach projects. Reynolds and colleagues at HICAHS, the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and the University of Milan organized the International Dairy Research Consortium in 2010 to share best practices and collaborate on research and outreach projects that result in the reduction of injuries and illnesses among dairy workers internationally. The IDRC first met in July 2011 in Colorado, and members now represent 12 countries.

“This is the only international group meeting about dairy issues and research,” said Vicky Buchan, director of CSU’s School of Social Work Doctoral Program and a workshop presenter. “The group that is meeting is interdisciplinary, which is the key to progress. The workshop provides the opportunity to learn from each other as various regions of the globe struggle with some of the same issues, such as workforce training needs, ergonomic and respiratory concerns and equipment changes.”

The changing dairy industry and the health and safety of its workers also are featured in the current issue of the Journal of Agromedicine. Reynolds served as the guest editor of this edition of the journal.

“Advances in milking technology and dairy animal science have facilitated a rapid increase in the size of dairy herds worldwide,” Reynolds said. “Expanding dairy production has required a larger workforce, most often consisting of immigrant labor, often with little experience in agriculture. Dairy farming is also among the most dangerous occupations, with high rates of injury, illness, and employee turnover.”

Reynolds led an international team of guest editors in reviewing the status of the dairy industry, highlighting current occupational health and safety research, and identifying knowledge gaps and programmatic needs.

“For dairy farmers trained to manage cows, the operation of a modern dairy employing a large immigrant workforce is a daunting challenge,” Reynolds said.

The limited current research indicates that immigrant workers on dairies are at higher risk, yet there is little work in the peer-reviewed literature specifically addressing the core issues.

The articles in this issue of the Journal of Agromedicine provide an overview of the industry and examine key areas such as respiratory health, ergonomics, injury and fatality, and psychosocial and mental health. Other articles address occupational health and safety regulations, leadership and management, and guidelines for animal handling. All of the papers note the lack of peer-reviewed publications regarding effective health and safety interventions.

In addition to Reynolds, guest editors, who are all members of the IDRC, include Claudio Colosio, University of Milan; David Douphrate, University of Texas; Christina Lunner Kolstrup and Peter Lundqvist, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences; and Matthew Nonnenmann, Ph.D., CIH, University of Iowa.

“Research is needed to develop and evaluate cost-effective solutions,” said Journal of Agromedicine Editor-in-Chief Matthew Keifer, director, National Farm Medicine Center at Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation. “We believe this special issue of the journal will be a resource to help guide future research to enhance the health and sustainability of the dairy workforce.”