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Deliberate Planning Can Create Safer Farm Work Environment

Sheldon Wiebe farmed with his father for years with no significant farm-related injuries.

Then a devastating incident changed everything on their MacGregor, Manitoba potato farm. The young daughter of one of the farm’s workers lost her hand and forearm to a potato seed cutting table. She was “helping” her father at the time. The manufacturer’s safety guards were in the right place. But the little girl’s curiosity led her too far.

A tragic lesson was learned; she should never have been anywhere near the equipment.

The investigation that followed spawned a heartfelt commitment to safety on the Wiebe farm.

Sheldon signed on for the “Safe Farms Check Program,” one of about 60 Manitoba farmers who helped pilot the program and develop a guide in 2007.

The Safe Farms Check Program guide is now available online as a resource for all farmers to develop and implement a safe farm plan customized to their own farm.

PLAN FARM SAFETY

Manitoba’s Safe Farms Check Program is of many resources farm safety officials across Canada are flagging during Canadian Agricultural Safety Week as they encourage more farmers to deliberately plan for safety.

Plan Farm Safety is the 2010 theme selected for a three-year campaign launched March 14. This year, the campaign will promote the “plan” aspect, emphasizing deliberate planning to create a safer work environment on the farm.

What does it mean to plan for safety?

It means stepping back and taking an objective look at how the job is done, to see where you put yourself and others’ risk on the farm, says provincial farm safety co-ordinator Glen Blahey in Manitoba.

“Planning for safety is anticipating what the consequences might be if something goes wrong,” he said. And that goes beyond just noting hazards in a safety audit, or a farm walkabout, and making mental notes to be more careful.

A safety plan is an assessment of risks and a plan of action to reduce those risks, Blahey said.

The Safe Farms Check Program was developed so no farmer need start from scratch to do this.

“The Safe Farms Check Program is really a recipe book, that any producer can take, start filling in the blanks and develop a plan particular to their operation,” Blahey said.

In Alberta, farm safety specialists steer producers to A Farm Employer’s Guide to Job Orientation and Safety Training, with a one-page checklist, a CD (or DVD) titled “Farm Safety – It’s no Accident,” and more than two dozen fact sheets for downloading off the Farm Safety Centre website or requesting from their offices.

Put these resources together, and you’ve got your safety plan in place, says Leduc-based farm safety co-ordinator Laurel Aitken with Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development.

What isn’t known is how many farmers have actually done so to date.

“I talk to farmers who have every level of safety planning,” Aitken said. Large farms have safety and health plans implemented by their own safety staff.

But on smaller, family-owned farms, planning for safety is more likely about having a conversation about safety, says Aitken.

“And they may not even be calling it a plan,” Aitken said. “It’s verbal, but nothing formal. I suspect on quite a few farms that’s the way it’s done.”

Farm safety specialists can only provide resources to stimulate those conversations and help plans get started, she added.

INJURIES

This is what the annual Canadian Agricultural Safety Week is all about, says Marcel Hacault, executive director of CASA based out of Winnipeg.

“Some producers feel that developing a farm safety program will create overwhelming paperwork – but that is not so,” Hacault said.

“The idea behind the theme “Plan Farm Safety” is to offer a time period in where farmers and ranchers can work with our campaign to go through the steps necessary to establish a practical farm safety program.”

CASW’s theme is strongly endorsed by farm organizations like Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP) in Manitoba.

“We’re very supportive of this initiative,” said Doug Chorney, a Manitoba farmer and KAP vice-president.

header photos courtesy of canadian agricultural safety association

“KAP members are injured and killed far too often because of farm safety challenges. And it’s a problem right across Canada. When you look at the statistics, it’s shocking, actually, how dangerous farming is.”

About eight people die traumatically as a direct result of farm work every year in Manitoba. On average, 125 people are hospitalized because of farm work injuries. It is estimated an additional 5,000 or more seek medical aid on work-related injuries and illnesses.

Across the country, as many as 115 people are killed annually, and at least 1,500 are hospitalized for farm-related incidents according to the Canadian Agricultural Injury Reporting program (CAIR). In 2006, 13,801 Canadian farms reported one or more medically treated or lost time injuries, reports Statistics Canada.

Research done for CASA shows the cost of a farm injury can range

“Planning for safety is anticipating what the consequences might be if something goes wrong.”

from $700 for a non-hospitalized injury, to tens of thousands of dollars for a permanent disability or a death.

Several incentive-based safe farm programs are now being piloted across Canada, including Manitoba’s Safe Farms Check Program, plus others in Saskatchewan, Quebec and B. C. The Canadian Centre for Health and Safety in Agriculture (CCHSA) based out of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan has proposed a Canada-wide study into how financial incentives might actually help reduce the current unacceptable death and injury rates in agriculture.

NEW REALITY

On their farm, safety has become not just something done, but a way of thinking, says Sheldon Wiebe, who met with his farm staff to hear their ideas for make changes to improve safety after his involvement with the Safe Farms Check Program.

Today the Wiebes’ potato farm has a written safety plan used throughout the entire farm enterprise.

“You can’t control everything in agriculture so you should control all the things you can – and that starts with your own behaviour and the safety choices you make as you do your work, ” says Sheldon.

“Safety requires more paperwork, but once you develop a plan – it is not so bad,” says Wiebe. “A lot of the things we were doing anyway – we just document them now. The safety plan gives us a safer food product and a better place to work. This is the new reality for farming and there is more to come.”

The Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA) and Canadian Agricultural Safety Association (CASA) deliver Canadian Farm Safety Week in partnership with Farm Credit Canada (FCC) and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. [email protected]

About the author

Reporter

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.

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