Fatigue on the farm: Two studies will examine the high-risk work environment inside dairy operations
Over the past few decades, the U.S. dairy industry has seen a reduction in the number of dairy farms. However, the farms that remain have increased their milking herd sizes, leading to an increased number of workers needed to perform a variety of farm tasks.
These workers often work eight- to 12-hour shifts, six days a week. Larger numbers of workers on farms combined with challenging work environments can raise the risk of injuries, illnesses and fatalities.
David I. Douphrate, who joined the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health at the Texas A&M University School of Public Health in August as an associate professor, was recently awarded funding for two distinct research projects addressing worker health and fatigue among dairy farm workers.
“Dairy workers are at higher risk for injuries as compared to workers in other industrial sectors,” Douphrate said. “Right now, Texas is probably the third or fourth largest dairy producing state in the nation. These farms are trending to large-herd operations and that is leading to larger workforces.”
The multi-million-dollar projects are being funded by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) through two NIOSH-funded Centers for Agricultural Health: the Southwest Center for Agricultural Health, Injury, Prevention, and Education (SW Ag Center) at the University of Texas at Tyler Health Science Center and the High Plains Intermountain Center for Agricultural Health and Safety (HICAHS) at Colorado State University. Douphrate serves as the deputy director at the SW Ag Center and as associate director of HICAHS.
“These two projects are focused on two separate sectors, two different issues,” Douphrate said. “The first one is addressing what we call dairy total worker health, and we are looking at the worker and how the workplace may influence their overall health. The other project is addressing dairy worker fatigue, primarily in the milking parlor, because we know it is an issue, we just don’t know how much of an issue it is. We are investigating how fatigue manifests itself among dairy parlor workers. Additionally, we will assess how fatigue affects worker job performance.”