Occupational Safety Management and Leadership

Dairy farming is among the most dangerous occupations and accounts for a disproportionately large percentage of all injuries in livestock-related agriculture. The U.S. dairy industry has shifted towards a large-herd, mass-production model due to economies of scale. This shift has led to a higher risk of fatalities, injuries and work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) due to task specialization, increased work demands and hazards. Additionally, dairy owners are increasingly dependent on front-line supervisors to effectively manage a larger workforce comprised primarily of low-literacy, non-English speaking workers with minimal to no experience of working on large-herd farms. Owners are increasingly seeking supervisors who demonstrate effective management and leadership skills, especially in relation to worker health and safety. The long-term goal of the project was to reduce or eliminate injuries and fatalities among a vulnerable workforce on dairy farms.  We developed and implemented an integrated safety management and leadership training intervention for large-herd dairy front-line supervisors, and evaluated the effects of the safety leadership and management training intervention on dairy supervisor daily leadership and management practices, as well as worker group safety climate and behavior.

A 13-module mobile learning program regarding dairy farm supervisor safety leadership and management was developed and tested in four U.S. states in 2017-2020. We employed a quasi-experimental, pre-post intervention-control study design to evaluate the effects of a training intervention on supervisor safety leadership and management practices. We randomly assigned dairy supervisors to one of two groups: training intervention group, and a non-training, control group. Using an interrupted time-series design, we collected several measurements of outcome variables both before, during and after introduction of the safety leadership and management training intervention. We employed innovative intensive longitudinal data collection and analysis methodology which, to our knowledge, has never been applied in occupational health and safety research or in the agricultural industrial sector. Each supervisor (intervention and control groups) reported their daily safety leadership and management practices using their personal mobile device with a custom application. Researchers monitored and measured over time supervisor safety leadership and management performance as well as intervention effectiveness. There were pre-post increases on reported daily safety leadership and management behaviors among enrolled supervisory participations. The training program appears to be effective in increasing safety leadership and management practices among front-line dairy supervisors.

A pre-post intervention study design was used to evaluate the effects of the program on a 24-item – 8-factor workplace safety climate survey. The training program and pre and post surveys were completed by supervisors, and their workers completed the pre and post survey. There were pre-post increases on all 24 items for both the supervisors and workers. Significant increases were seen on the 14-item supervisor safety climate scale and the 10-item group safety climate scale, as well as subscales regarding safety priority, empowerment and dealing with conflicts. No significant improvements were seen for the factor regarding leaders encouraging workers to report incidents (injury and near-miss), as these were already rated highly. The training program appears to be effective in improving safety climate.

Funded By: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)
Funding Period: 2016-2021

Training Topics

Man gesture towards a dairy cow while four people watch

Dairy Safety Introduction
Supervisor Role and Worker Role
Causes of Injuries and Fatalities
Safety Hazards
Hazard Recognition & Prevention
Modeling Safety
Effective Safety Communications
Safety Discipline
Workplace Conflict
Safety Culture

I really liked that I started looking at details that are overlooked when you’ve been working in the industry for a while. I look at them in a different way now. It gave me a safety toolkit.

Training Participant

Principal Investigator

David Douphrate
David Douphrate, PhD, MBA, MPT, CPE

Principal Investigator

Associate Professor
Texas A&M University
Department of Environmental and Occupational Health