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After Two Workers Drowned In Poop, Idaho Dairies Fear Fed Oversight

REUTERS/Jim Young

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Tim Pearce Energy Reporter

Idaho dairies are prepping for increased federal oversight by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) after a few workers died in accidents last year, The Washington Post reports.

In two separate instances, farm workers drowned in dairy manure pits filled with a “loose thick somewhat liquid-like substance.” One other worker was crushed by a skid loader — a small tractor.

“We won’t shy away from the fact that those fatalities provided a wake-up call … that we need to be more robust in safety training,” the Idaho Dairymen’s Association (IDA) director of operations Rick Naerebout told WaPo. “Many employees now didn’t grow up in the industry, either in the U.S. or Mexico, so they don’t have the same exposure to working with animals or working with machinery that employees had in the past.”

IDA has allocated a quarter of a million dollars to train dairy workers in health and safety protocols for dealing with heavy machinery and animals on dairies.

If OSHA decides to stop its historically hands-off approach to dairy regulation, the move would likely hurt the industry, according to WaPo.

“OSHA is almost adversarial to most businesses, so it’s not really welcomed,” Purdue University professor of agricultural and biological engineering William E. Field told WaPo. “It has become so hostile between OSHA leadership and the business world, there is very little room for collaboration.”

Worker safety on the dairy farms has improved over the past decade. The industry has nearly cut its number of annual accidents in half from 2004 to 2015, according to data compiled by the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA).

The numbers are favorable. However, many farm workers are not seeing a correlation in how they are treated.

“Workers are extremely worried, and there is a consensus that government is not doing enough, and neither are employers, in ensuring safety precautions,” Benjamin Reed, a local radio host who’s target audience is agricultural workers, told WaPo. “Some of these farms are dirty, nasty and full of flies and there are a lot of these manure ponds filled with fecal matter and urine.”

Neither the IDA or IDFA responded to requests for comment.

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