As well as the horrific suffering of animals that occurs on farms, farm workers also suffer under this immensely exploitative system both physically and mentally. Farm workers make up 2.2% of the population in Australia and employ 700,000 full-time and part-time workers in the US. 

Nature of the work 

Workers duties differ depending on the animal being farmed and their specific role. Though some operations on farms are automated, physical labour is still very much required on farms. Worker duties often include routinely mutilating or killing animals – this can have long lasting implications on the mental health of farm workers, being exposed to normalised and legalised violence towards animals day-to-day.

In hatcheries, farms dedicated to breeding poultry animals for consumption, workers mutilate animals on their first day of life, debeaking, declawing, bill trimming, and desnooding are all standard mutilations performed on day-old poultry animals. Workers repeat this process over and over. In egg production hatcheries, workers have to determine the sex of hatchlings and put male chickens through an industrial machine known as a macerator, which grinds male chicks up alive due to their lack of usefulness to the industry. The turkey industry even requires workers to masturbate male turkeys and artificially inseminate hens due to their inability to breed naturally, a practice if done to household pets would be considered beastiality.

In the pig farming industry workers are often responsible for clipping the teeth and cutting the tails off week old piglets, and notching pigs ears for identification purposes.

Cattle and sheep workers are exposed to routine mutilations and violent practices such as disbudding and dehorning in cattle and mulesing, tail docking, and shearing in sheep.

Mutilations are almost always performed on animals without the use of anesthetic, so workers witness animals writhe and cry out in pain due to procedures they are performing. 

Workers are also often responsible for checking automated feed and water systems, artificial breeding practices (which if performed outside of agriculture, would commonly be legally considered beastality), moving animals from pen to pens, administering antibiotics, collecting dead and dying animals, cleaning sheds, putting animals onto trucks to be driven to slaughter, and herding new animals in.

Physically harmful and demanding work

CAFOs are notoriously hazardous places to work due to high levels of particulate matter in addition to ammonia and hydrogen sulfide gases. Health implications can arise from exposure to each of these substances individually, however the health impact of exposure to them collectively causes the most amount of harm. 

All types of farms have unique combinations of particulate matter and gases which differ depending on the species of animal being raised, type of ventilation systems used, feed types, and methods of handling and storing waste.

Dry fecal matter, fungi, feathers, hair, fur  feed, dried soil, skin cells, bacterial endotoxins and dried soil are all characterised as inhalable particulate matter, which is airborne particles which can reach the lungs during regular breathing. The health risks of being exposed to particulate matter include chronic bronchitis, chronic respiratory symptoms, reduced lung function and organic dust syndrome. One study found that 70% of workers in pig factory farms have one or more symptoms of respiratory illness or irritation.

Exposure to these inhalable particulates can result in workers experiencing worsened asthma, chronic respiratory issues, cardiovascular issues and even premature death.

Ammonia is a compound of nitrogen and hydrogen that is colourless and has a distinct odor. Animal urine contains ammonia, on intensive farms where animals are kept in sheds with huge stocking densities, particularly poultry, high amounts of ammonia is produced. Worker exposure to ammonia can cause burning of the eyes, nose and respiratory tract. This can result in bronchiolar and alveolar edema leading to respiratory distress or failure.

Hydrogen sulfide is created during manure breaking down. The effects of hydrogen sulfide exposure varies greatly dependent upon the amount a worker is inhaling. However, there are a number of effects that result from a low concentration ranging from mild, eye irritation and headaches, to severe, unconsciousness and even death.