The average yearly cost for an employer-funded health-care policy for a family is around $12,700, and rising. With the high cost of health insurance, producers need to look for ways to reduce Occupational Safety and Health Administration concerns, employee sick-leave and liability risks, while at the same time increase employee retention.

“If you have a workplace that promotes health and safety, you are much more likely to keep employees on the job,” says Kelley Donham, director of the University of Iowa’s Center of Agricultural Safety and Health. “It can help with the productivity and the profitability of your operation.”

The first area Donham points to is the importance of reducing respiratory illnesses, which can affect up to 23 percent of workers in pork operations. “Dust in combination with ammonia increases the impact on the respiratory system,” Donham says. “The combination can increase the risk for organic dust toxic syndrome.” Smokers are twice as likely to have symptoms.

Excess dust levels in the air can trigger the condition. High dust levels can occur when cleaning out grain bins, moving pigs, weaning and treating pigs, or dropping feed. Workers should wear respiratory protection devices during such activities to reduce the risk of respiratory illness and potential health-related work absences.

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus poses another risk, according to Donham. MRSA has been found on Iowa pigs as well as pork production workers. “We don’t know how big of a problem it is at this point,” Donham says. “Study is on-going to determine the organism’s ecology, including where it lives and if it shifts from  pigs to people.”

He points to standard biosecurity protocols, such as shower-in-shower-out, as a way to help prevent bacteria spread.