Potential Dairy Farm Overregulation in Washington State

POTENTIAL DAIRY FARM OVERREGULATION IN WASHINGTON STATE

A death from a dairy farm worker almost a year ago has sparked a dramatic reaction from Washington State legislators. This past Thursday, Rep. Brady Walkinshaw (D) of Seattle sponsored House Bill 2484, which would add a litany of additional safety regulations and training on Washington dairy farms, as well as increased penalties for offenses and more frequent surprise inspections. The bill is in response to an accident that occurred on a Mabton ranch, in which a worker was found dead after he drove a front-end loader into a lagoon and was submerged. The coroner who presided over the autopsy found that the man had traces of methamphetamine in his system, which may have contributed to the accident. Witnesses claim he drove the loader into an area he was supposed to avoid. HB 2484 would require Washington’s Labor & Industries Department (L&I) to set up a safety-training program that would be mandatory and free for dairy workers. Dairies would be required to have at least one trained supervisor for every 10 employees and would be subject to unannounced safety inspections at least once every three years. Additionally, these farms would also be required to enact rules that address marking, lighting, and fencing lagoons, air quality, bathrooms for workers, and working around heavy equipment and cows. The Washington State Dairy Federation believes this is a gross government overreach. Dan Wood, WSDF’s Executive Director, says that while dairy owners should definitely review their safety policies and training programs, required additional safety measures are unnecessary.

“This was a rare circumstance. I’ve never heard of a death like this before, so I don’t know if this indicates a lack of safety standards . . . it doesn’t necessarily translate that the entire industry needs sweeping changes.”

According to Wood, WSDF encourages producers to consult with the Washington Farm Bureau and L&I to promote safety.

“This proposal will do nothing to stop people from using illegal drugs and harming themselves. Anytime there’s an accident at a workplace, there should be a review of safety practices. What you do in response to that needs to be measured and informed by the facts.”

Let’s keep in mind, this dairy farm accident is a terrible tragedy. No person should suffer a death like what happened. A worker lost his life on the job and a family lost their father and partner. Nothing said or done can take that back. However, it would be ill-advised to impose sanctions on an entire industry for an isolated incident. Yes, agriculture is not the safest industry in which to be employed. Accidents can occur just like any labor-intensive industry. When an accident happens on a construction site, factory, or during electrical power line repair, state governments typically don’t respond with sweeping regulation changes. The reason for that is that these industries have a built-in acknowledgment of risk. No matter how many regulations put into place, mortality is a possibility. Washington State Dairy Federation argues that this legislation is simply political opportunism, that labor activists are using this unfortunate death as an excuse to organize dairy farms. They, along with the Farm Bureau and Association of Washington Business, will testify against this bill in its hearing today. They are asking for the public’s help in contacting the bill’s sponsors and letting them know that “the bill is an attack on both the operations and the rights of dairies and their owners,” as well as requesting they hold the bill in committee and schedule a visit to a dairy farm in order to view the safety of the workplace.

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