Every Canadian crop producer heads into a new planting season with both eyes on the prize: a bountiful harvest and money in the bank. But, getting to that prize means a lot of hard work and long hours.
And sometimes, says Glen Blahey, an agricultural health and safety specialist with the Canadian Agricultural Safety Association (CASA), not enough attention is paid to the safety issues related to how the work gets done.
Blahey says farm injury and fatality reports show that agriculture is one of the most dangerous industries in Canada. And the stats are downright ugly. According to CASA, the average number of farm fatalities from 2002 – 2012 was 85 per year.
there were 306 farm-related fatalities in the province from 1997 – 2014, and of those, 19 per cent were children.
While a lot of producers insist experience and the desire to stay in business keeps them safe, nearly half of those killed in farming incidents from 1999 to 2008 were owner operators. Another 14 per cent were their kids.
Let’s talk spring safety
Blahey knows Canadian farmers have what it takes to turn farm injury stats around. From his vantage point, safety has two faces: one is human (quite likely family), the other is business risk management. “Workrelated injuries and illnesses cost money,” he says. “They cost productivity. They cost efficiency. They cost credibility in the community. ”
As for the business costs associated with farm incidents, Blahey says you can count on more than $275,000 for a fatality and $10,000-plus for an injury that requires hospitalization. “And those figures are in 2011 dollars,” he adds.
To stem the tide of red ink and, quite frankly, blood, sweat and tears, Blahey urges farmers to make safety a deliberate daily practice. Those who wouldn’t send a worker into the field without instructions about what they’re seeding or spraying should also make sure their workers know what they must do to stay safe.
These daily safety messages can be guided by information collected in a safety audit, says Bonita Hus of the Canadian Centre for Health and Safety in Agriculture. The audit, a farm-specific checklist, is one of the most popular items at the ag trade shows Hus attends.
While she can’t be sure how many of the checklists are used, she knows that the data farmers gather from the checklists can save lives. “The audit is a good reminder of what you already know,” she says. “Collecting that information, then reviewing it with family and workers helps guard against complacency. It’s part of practicing due diligence. ”
Hus has talked to farmers who question whether they have time for safety audits like the one offered online through her agency, or to complete a formal farm safety plan like the one offered by CASA. She urges them to reconsider.
First, in a business where time is money, economic data clearly shows farm safety saves money. Second, injuries most often happen when workers are tired and/or in a hurry. Because the plan and audit remind you what not to do, they reinforce safe practices when you need them most.
Reminding workers about the dangers of a rotating PTO shaft, for example, can save life and limb by reinforcing safe practices, says Hus. She also recommends regular safety talks to repeat messages about the location of fire extinguishers and appropriate use of cell phones, which can be distracting when driving or operating machinery.
Know better, do better
All it takes to make safety a working priority is a few minutes at the top of every day, adds Blahey. Basic risk management requires workers to assess the work they are doing and identify what has the potential to hurt them or make their actions unsafe, he says. “They then need to develop a logical approach to managing or controlling that hazard. ”
Blahey recalls a frustrated producer telling him about young workers repairing a swather. They didn’t block the machine because they didn’t believe a header could drop without anyone at the controls. He challenges the idea that the producer was powerless in this situation. While youth and a lack of experience may have contributed to his workers’ ignorance, the boss sets the rules. That includes telling employees that non-compliance with safety rules could equal job termination.
Blahey’s safety-first approach to farm work extends to where farm operators keep information needed in emergency situations. Data about legal land descriptions should be stored on all phones and posted in homes and working areas where farm workers can read them to 911 operators. “You’re kidding yourself if you think this information can be posted in one place, memorized or stored on just your phone,” says Blahey. “Work-related injuries and illnesses cost money … they cost productivity. They cost efficiency. They cost credibility in the community” Glen Blahey health and safety specialist, Canadian agricultural safety association.
The bottom line is that safety on the farm is not one person’s responsibility, says Blahey. “Saying I’ll figure out what to do if something happens is like the old adage: It’s too late to lock the barn door after the horse is stolen. “