Farm safety: Not knowing is not the answer
As we gear up for the growing season, it’s a great time to think about farm safety. While it may seem repetitive to brush up on safety each spring, it just might save your life and your farm.
“Being a farm safety professional, sometimes we feel like Maytag salesmen,” said Laurel Aitken, farm safety coordinator with Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development (AARD). “People are not knocking down the door trying to get information, because an accident or injury is not a nice thing to think about.”
Yet farm safety can have a huge impact on a farm’s operations and its bottom line.
“Keeping yourself and others safe has to be your single most important priority,” said Diane Wreford, the Canadian Agricultural Safety Association’s (CASA’s) director of communications. “It’s a basic business risk management strategy without which, the whole farm could fail.”
The problem is that many people perceive themselves as being more safety conscious than they actually are.
“Everyone knows a story about something unsafe, but it was always done by the neighbour or some guy down the road,” said Aitken. “But remember, you are your neighbour’s neighbour, and he’s saying the same thing about you.”
According to the Canadian Ag Injury Surveillance Program report, there are more than 100 deaths and 1,500 hospitalizations resulting from agricultural injuries in Canada each year.
In fact, agriculture is the third most dangerous occupation in Canada. CASA estimates that, on average, an injury caused hospitalization directly costs the medical system, community, family and businesses $10,000. A permanent disability directly costs about $143,000, not including lost productivity, while a fatality costs in the range of $275,000.
In many cases, accidents are caused because people get so accustomed to farming’s inherent risks that they forget the danger.
“You work with the same hazards every day for 35 or 40 years, and they haven’t killed you yet,” said Aitken. “You stop seeing the danger that’s right there in front of you. It’s not negligence so much as just becoming a little too comfortable.”
While 85 per cent of producers view safety as a priority, less than one in 10 have completed a farm safety plan.
Taking the time to plan for farm safety can be looked upon as an investment. The costs of not planning for on-farm hazards can include: lost employee and owner time, decreased health and well-being, property damage, increased insurance premiums, lost productivity, decreased product quality, medical expenses, litigation and fines and increased administration.
To increase farm safety, everyone must take part. Whether someone owns a farm or is a family member or an employee, Aitken said that it’s important to recognize that everyone has an important role to play in building a safety plan, encouraging safe work practices, and protecting each other from hazards.
“If you are a family member, start a family discussion. Say, ‘You may be willing to take that risk, Dad, but we need to look at this as a family,’” said Aitken. “If you are an employee, don’t make yourself into a victim who feels at the mercy of the owner. Volunteer to start a safety plan; get the conversation going.”
During Canada Farm Safety Week in mid-March, AARD launched the I Have a Role campaign, symbolized by twine ribbons called twibbons.
“Twibbons are supposed to be a conversation starter,” said Aitken. “You can start talking about safety with your family and neighbours—get the ball rolling.”
Farm safety planning a proven moneymaker
“A farm safety plan doesn’t have to be a huge, overwhelming binder full of paperwork that leaves you wondering how you can even start,” said Laurel Aitken, farm safety co-ordinator with AARD. “It can be very small and simple. The important thing is to get started.”
Aitken recommends focusing on your highest safety priorities first:
- Identify and post emergency contact information next to all telephones.
- Create and post a safe farm map detailing the locations of hazards, first aid supplies, emergency water sources, telephones, etc. Post this information where it is visible, preferably close to a phone and give as much information as possible to the emergency crew when they arrive. In the event of a fire or chemical spill, call emergency services and share the information from the map so they know where your electrical box, gas line shut off and other utilities are located.
- List your farm’s major health and safety hazards, and then write down a hazard mitigation strategy for each (i.e., chemical usage = specified personal protective equipment).
- Communicate your safety plans to on-site family, employees and visitors.
Check out CASA’s Canada FarmSafe Plan template: www.planfarmsafety.ca