Introduction: Conventional pipeline and parlor milking expose dairy farmers and workers to adverse health outcomes. In recent years, automatic milking systems (AMS) have gained much popularity in Finland, but the changes in working conditions when changing to AMS are not well known. The aim of this study was to investigate the occupational health and safety risks in using AMS, compared to conventional milking systems (CMS). Methods: An anonymous online survey was sent to each Finnish dairy farm with an AMS in 2014. Only those dairy farmers with prior work experience in CMS were included in the final analysis consisting of frequency distributions and descriptive statistics. Results: We received 228 usable responses (131 male and 97 female; 25.2% response rate). The majority of the participants found that AMS had brought flexibility to the organization of farm work, and it had increased leisure time, quality of life, productivity of dairy work, and the attractiveness of dairy farming among the younger generation. In addition, AMS reduced the perceived physical strain on the musculoskeletal system as well as the risk of occupational injuries and diseases, compared to CMS. However, working in close proximity to the cattle, particularly training of heifers to use the AMS, was regarded as a high-risk work task. In addition, the daily cleaning of the AMS and manual handling of rejected milk were regarded as physically demanding. The majority of the participants stated that mental stress caused by the monotonous, repetitive, paced, and hurried work had declined after changing to AMS. However, many indicated increased mental stress because of the demanding management of the AMS. Nightly alarms caused by the AMS, lack of adequately skilled hired labor or farm relief workers, and the 24/7 standby for the AMS were issues that also caused mental stress. Conclusion: Based on this study, AMS may have significant potential in the prevention of adverse health outcomes in milking of dairy cows. In addition, AMS may improve the productivity of dairy work and sustainability of dairy production. However, certain characteristics of the AMS require further attention with regard to occupational health and safety risks.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health