Originally written by Tracey Erickson, former SDSU Extension Dairy Field Specialist.
We often check the weather before heading out the door and decide if we need a coat or not. But is the clothing we are wearing protecting us or could it add increased risk as we perform our job? A good share of producers on dairy farms, are now providing their employees with some type of uniform or clothing stipend. As a dairy producer there are some things to consider as you select your personal attire or that of your employees.
Let’s start at the top. A lot of work on modern dairy farms is inside and wearing baseball caps or stocking caps does provide some protection from the elements. Given that we are beginning the cold winter months stocking caps will probably be the head protection of choice. Consider bright fluorescent yellow, orange or green stocking caps or hats to help with enhanced visibility of employees for safety considerations.
Eye protection is also important and safety goggles or glasses should be required by all employees. Employees often deal with many different chemicals or hazardous objects that have the potential to “propel” and could possibly end up in the eye. Additionally there are objects such as feed particles and dirt that could be blown into the eyes. There are many different types available in the market. However, if they are not comfortable and affordable they will not be purchased or worn.
Dressing in layers is important on the dairy farm. Employees and producers are often exposed to varied risks within their job. Clothing should be fairly tight fitting, free of tears or strings that can become entangled in PTO’s or caught on equipment. Durability along with breathability is important when selecting fabric. Remind employees, that when they are buying coveralls to take into account being able to put layers of clothes underneath them. Even though we want clothing that fits and is not baggy, it needs to allow the person to sit, stretch, squat, and bend. Many dairies are now also requiring employees to also wear a bright fluorescent colored vest for additional visibility of the employees as there is a lot of moving equipment such as tractors, skid-steers, feed wagons, pay loaders and semi’s. Keep in mind that the vest needs to fit over winter clothing attire and yet still be snug and comfortable at the same time.
Foot wear on dairy farms is extremely important. Oftentimes, we talk about wearing leather boots and hard soles to protect our feet in case an animal steps on them or while operating equipment. However, leather may not provide the best protection if the primary job of the employee is dealing with a lot of moisture and chemicals, such as the milking parlor or the freestall barn. Rubber boots with non-skid sole, and some arch support are good choices, as they protect the foot from excess moisture and can be easily cleaned. Steel toed rubber boots, should be considered if available, as they add extra protection if stepped on by an animal. Socks that help wick moisture away from the foot are also important; otherwise employees could end up with athlete’s foot due to the high moisture environments that they work in. One additional thought that many employees would greatly appreciate is providing multiple boot dryers which will dry them out and provide warm footwear when going out in the elements.
We often do not think about our hands, but on a dairy, employees working in the milking parlor should wear rubber gloves. The increased amount of moisture and chemical exposure in pre and post dipping of the udder and sanitation of the equipment will damage the skin. If employees are not working with chemicals, gloves that protect hands from the elements are ok. There are many styles, including cotton, leather, rubber, nylon, or a combination. Things to consider are fit, durability, protection from the hot or cold environment, and price.
Other Protective Items
Other protective items that should be provided to employees are dust masks because of the dirt, dust, and molds in the environment in which work is being performed.
Lastly, one thing not often thought about is sunscreen, even in winter months. Even though this is technically not a type of clothing, it is still an important piece on the attire that should be worn with constant exposure to the sun. Sunburn can still occur in the winter as the sun reflects off of snow, especially on non-cloudy days.