Fostering a community of safety for the College of ACES

Daniel Gaither operates a forklift inside of a warehouse
Daniel Gaither operates forklift during a safety training session with ACES students

At the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, safe workplaces have always been a priority. For Daniel Gaither, director of safety for the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) at U. of I., they’re a passion. To observe World Safety and Health Day this year, Gaither reflects on what safety looks like for the vibrant community of students, faculty, and staff in ACES.

“A robust culture of safety contributes to the overall well-being of individuals and organizations by preventing accidents, ensuring compliance, promoting productivity, and fostering responsibility,” Gaither said. “My goal is to ensure that every ACES employee goes home in the same (or better!) condition than they arrived in that day.”

Just how does someone fall in love with safety enough to make it a career? In Gaither’s case, it started during his undergraduate program, when he majored in agribusiness markets and management and minored in agriculture safety and health. He struck up a mentorship with Robert Aherin, a professor in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, who encouraged Gaither to attend several International Society for Agricultural Safety & Health (ISASH) conferences. Those experiences were pivotal in developing his passion, he said.

“Agriculture is one of the most hazardous industries. I am deeply committed to ensuring employee well-being through a steadfast dedication to safety. Every individual deserves to feel secure and protected in their workplace, and it is my passion to cultivate environments that prioritize and promote the health and safety of all employees,” Gaither said.

As director of safety, Gaither develops programs and tracks data to ensure safety outcomes for ACES. This can include assessing laboratories, research farms, machine shops, and other locations for institutional risk and putting together plans to mitigate it. He also helps departments customize their comprehensive safety and health programs to meet their unique priorities and operations. For general ACES staff, Gaither frequently shares information and training on natural disaster preparedness, mental health awareness, and ergonomics in the office.

The ACES safety landscape is vast and varied. It encompasses a child development laboratory serving 160 families across two buildings; dozens of plant production greenhouses; and countless laboratories, brimming with chemicals and biohazards. In addition, ACES operates more than 3,300 acres of research and revenue-generating farmland south of campus, including row and specialty crops, beef and dairy farms, swine and poultry production facilities, and a horse breeding program. Gaither oversees it all.

“One of my favorite aspects of my role is that each day is different,” Gaither said. “Every day presents new challenges and opportunities, and no two days are alike. For example, one day I performed a safety site visit of our child development lab in the morning, followed by a tour of our dairy in the afternoon. Next thing I knew, I was chasing after a runaway calf to get it back to safety.”

Gaither’s farm safety responsibilities set his role apart from other safety professionals on campus. He hopes to set a strong example among his peers, but more importantly, he wants to provide the broader farming community with a demonstration of effective farm safety.

To that end, Gaither has improved protocols around accident and injury prevention, equipment safety, chemical and pesticide safety, personal protective equipment, animal handling, emergency preparedness, and regulatory compliance across the ACES farms. 

“Safety is an integral part of agriculture. It not only protects the health and well-being of those involved in farming but also contributes to the long-term success and viability of the farming community. Safety in the farming community is essential for protecting lives, livelihoods, and the environment,” Gaither said.

As Gaither works to ensure the welfare of the community, his role takes on a special meaning as a previous student in ACES.

“Having the privilege first to be an alum and now an employee has been an honor. It is so neat to have first seen ACES through the lens of a student and now to see all of the systems in place behind the scenes to provide students with a world-class education,” Gaither said.

The University of Illinois and the College of ACES have a variety of comprehensive safety resources and programs, such as the Division of Research Safety, Safety and Compliance, Campus Code Compliance and Fire Safety, ACES Safety Committee, ACES Trainings, and more. To find out more about the College of ACES Safety resources and programs visit their website or contact

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