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What are the risks of working on a dairy farm?

Illinois dairy farms produce millions of gallons of milk each year, and if you are one of the thousands of employees on these farms, you might not realize all the health and safety risks you face. They include respiratory, biological and environmental hazards along with the dangers posed by feeding storage in silos and grain bins. Furthermore, exposure to chemicals, noise, heat and musculoskeletal injuries serves to exacerbate the threats you face.

Although the Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires employers to inform their workers of all the hazards of their jobs, it might be wise to learn as much as you can about them, along with the solutions and controls to mitigate them. That will enable you to take extra precautions for self-protection.

Animal-acquired infections

The type of work you perform on the dairy farm will determine the risk level of your job. Working with cattle will put you at risk of contracting the following zoonotic infections:

  • Rabies: This virus could be present in the nervous tissue and saliva of infected animals, and you can contract a viral disease that causes inflammation of your brain.
  • HantavirusIf your job takes you to places where there is a rodent infestation, you are at risk of hantavirus infection, which is a deadly respiratory disease.
  • Bovine Tuberculosis: This is a respiratory disease in cattle that can spread to humans.
  • Anthrax: You can contract this severe bacterial disease from working with farm animals like cows and sheep.
  • Brucellosis: Also a bacterial illness, but spread through unpasteurized dairy products like milk and cheese.
  • Leptospirosis: Another bacterial infection that results from contact with the tissue, blood or urine of infected animals.

How can you be infected?

Bacteria, viruses, fungi, protozoa and parasites are all microorganisms that live in animals, and they can cause zoonotic diseases when they spread to humans in the following ways:

  • Indirect infections: The microorganisms spread to humans through contact with infected soil, water and food.
  • Direct contact: Infection can result from direct contact with animals and their products like placenta and manure.
  • Direct transmission: An animal bite can cause an infection.
  • Consumption: Raw or unpasteurized animal products like raw meat and raw milk can carry infectious microorganisms.

Along with agricultural workers, other risky occupations include veterinarians, ranchers, slaughterhouse workers and others who work in close contact with animals.

Other hazards

Your job on a cattle farm will also expose you to arboviruses, which are infections transferred to humans by ticks, mosquitos and other anthropods. Examples of diseases include West Nile and Zika viruses. Another threat is needle stick injuries if you are involved in the inoculation of the animals. Vaccines contain chemotherapeutics, hormones or other infective materials. The wound can also provide entry for any other infectious agents to which you could face exposure.

Your rights

You are entitled to a safe work environment, and your employer must provide adequate personal protective equipment to keep you safe. However, if you do fall victim to an occupational disease, you will likely be eligible for financial assistance. The Illinois workers' compensation insurance program will provide benefits to cover your medical expenses and lost wages. Recourses are available to assist with the legal and administrative steps of the claims process.

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