Farm safety leaders are convinced talking is as necessary as safety equipment and training in preventing farm injuries.
So maybe it’s not surprising the theme for this year’s Canadian Agricultural Safety Week, which runs March 9-15, is Farm Safety: Let’s Talk About It.
Dean Anderson of Guelph, Ont., the agricultural program manager for Workplace Safety and Prevention Services (WSPS), says talking about safety is where prevention starts.
Most farm injuries are predictable and preventable
Maybe it’s a conversation around the breakfast table, or at morning coffee before the work day begins. It doesn’t matter where, as much as when – and the when is all the time. Safety must be a constant, active pursuit and mindset, not a mostly forgotten, dusty manual on a shelf.
“Most farm injuries are predictable and preventable,” says Anderson. “It’s easier to talk about safety and help prevent an injury from happening, than it is to deal with the consequences.”
This is a departure from previous ag safety weeks. Many have focused on a particular volatile situation or the safety equipment to prevent it. A prime case is the possibility of tractors rolling over, and how roll bars can help prevent drivers from being crushed.
Here’s the problem with such approaches. A perception arises in the farm community that when the week-long campaign ends, the unsafe situation they address has disappeared. The campaign has somehow made it go away.
That, however, is far from the truth. Every week in Canada, two people die from farm-related injuries.
And sometimes fatalities extend beyond the farm operator, to the farm family. That’s why the Childhood Agricultural Safety Network, a coalition of 38 health, safety and youth organizations (including WSPS), has just relaunched a campaign called Keep Kids Away From Tractors.
The reason? When kids and tractors get together, despite a long cultural association between them on the farm, the results can be tragic. The coalition’s campaign urges adults to think twice before allowing children 12 and under to operate tractors, or even ride on them. This may sound impractical and overly-protective to busy farm families, which isn’t lost on the coalition. But it also prompts the campaign’s chilling theme: “It’s easier to bury a tradition than a child.”
A lot of talking is required to change a culture. In Ontario, Anderson and WSPS agriculture community coordinator Sandy Miller are focused on finding unique ways to get through to cultures that are central to the province’s farm sector.
For example, migrant workers are among the most vulnerable groups. They may arrive in Canada from countries where English is not popularly spoken, their education levels may be low and the equipment they operate is brand new to them.
To address their safety needs, Anderson and Miller are working on not only creating Spanish resources and having them available online, but then taking the next steps and putting them in the hands of employers.
As well, they’re working with Anabaptist farm communities (Old Order Amish, Old Order Mennonite and Orthodox Mennonite) in Ontario on farm safety material specifically for kids, called Safe At Home. This effort includes a flip chart teaching aid for instructors and a complementary colouring book depicting scenes that are specific to their farming style, to get kids talking about farm safety at school and at home.
WSPS is offering a farm safety plan workshop, developed in partnership with the farm safety association, called FarmSafe 101, at the Guelph Turfgrass Institute March 28, at no charge. And this upcoming Monday at noon, the association, the Farm Management Council and Farm Credit Canada will sponsor a webinar about ag safety awareness, which is also free.
Every workshop, seminar, flip chart and conversation about farm safety increases the odds that farm-related injuries will decrease. The key: keep talking.