BOISE — The Idaho Dairymen’s Association is adding a full-time position to administer worker safety training, prompted by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s plans to start surprise inspections of the state’s agricultural operations.
Rick Naerebout, the association’s operations director, hopes to have the position, which has a base salary of at least $55,000, filled by the first quarter of 2017. He’s seeking someone with a college degree and experience in workforce safety and training. His board approved the position in November.
The association has hired two national dairy safety experts — New Mexico State University Extension dairy specialist Robert Hagevoort and David Douphrate, a worker-safety expert at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston — to aid in finding a good candidate and to provide safety training tools to pass on to Idaho dairies.
“We wanted to make sure our dairies knew what to expect if they did have an OSHA visit,” Naerebout said.
David Kearns, area director for OSHA in Idaho, has developed a draft plan for establishing a Local Emphasis Program in Idaho, which would include surprise inspections of OSHA-regulated agricultural facilities in the state. He hopes the plan will be reviewed early in 2017. The draft is based on a plan covering dairies in Wisconsin, he said.
“Representatives with the Dairymen’s Association have met with our office on a couple of occasions, and we look forward to a cooperative relationship towards a common goal of successful businesses doing the right thing and protecting their most valuable resources — their workers,” Kearns said.
Kearns said Idaho has had two agricultural-related deaths during the past year, both involving Latino workers drowning in dairy lagoons.
Naerebout said Idaho dairy safety training will place a special emphasis on high-traffic areas, such as surrounding lagoons.
Naerebout acknowledged many of Idaho’s nearly 500 dairies are already doing a good job with safety, and for some, the greatest benefit of the position will be helping them better document current worker safety efforts. Dairy processors, who face increasing scrutiny from consumers interested in how their food is produced, will also benefit by having proof that their suppliers maintain safe working environments, he said.
Naearebout hopes to deliver the program at no cost to dairies.
Hagevoort explained accidents on dairies are on the rise as dairies have grown to maintain profit margins, leading to larger workforces with employees who often have no agricultural backgrounds. Hagevoort and Douphrate will train the association’s new specialist in tools they’re developing, with OSHA funding, to improve worker efficiency and to educate workers about the herding instincts of large animals. Employees who complete their program will receive a certificate, he said. The experts will also offer direct training to Idaho and Washington dairies early next year.
“I’ve been very impressed with Idaho. They are taking a very proactive approach to worker health and safety,” Douphrate said. “It’s not just worker health and safety but worker performance and human resource management in general.”