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Dairy cows in Canton, NY. Photo: Nora Flaherty
Dairy cows in Canton, NY. Photo: Nora Flaherty

A farmworker speaks out on dairy farm dangers

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A Syracuse-area farm worker is touring regional churches and community centers to bring attention to workplace dangers on dairy farms.

José Cañas is originally from El Salvador, but he's worked in New York agriculture for three years. Cañas says he's putting his job on the line to let people know about the risks posed to agricultural laborers from slippery floors, large animals, heavy equipment, and chemicals. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports 55 fatalities on New York State dairy farms since 2006.

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Cañas is encouraging more farm laborers to share their experiences and let regulatory agencies, like OSHA, know about their on-the-job concerns. He says most farm workers are too afraid to speak up. "It's because we're afraid of immigration, of police, of being fired from work. And if they fire us from work, we're taken out of our homes and we don't have we anywhere to go," said Cañas.

Cañas' speaking tour shines a light on a new Local Emphasis Program by the federal safety agency, OSHA, to apply more scrutiny to the safety of New York dairy farms. This will be commencing in July.

Steve Ammerman, spokesperson for the New York Farm Bureau, acknowledges the dangers of agricultural labor, but he said dairy farmers, federal regulators, and the Farm Bureau are working together to mitigate risk. "Dairy farming in particular is one of the most heavily-regulated professions in this country and this inspection process is more regulation," said Ammerman. "It's new to them to have OSHA come on to their farms in a surprise inspection and take a look at how they're doing things."

Representatives from the New York Farm Bureau have been training farmers on how to comply with OSHA regulations.

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