Driving combine or truck into the wee hours of the morning never used to faze Paul Gregory.
He knows he can’t put those long hours in anymore.
“Evenings are tougher,” admits the Fisher Branch farmer and owner of Interlake Forage Seeds Ltd.
He recently turned 60.
“I’m definitely not feeling as much energy as I used to. And certainly I don’t have the appetite to work the long days like I did.”
Otherwise fine, and healthier than those a lot younger, he’s just being realistic about what his hearing-aid- and bifocal-wearing self is now capable of.
Now it’s important to assess the job at hand and figure out how — and who — should do it.
“You can work smarter,” said Gregory.
His candid self-evaluation of capabilities and limitations as he ages is what this year’s national safety week campaign is all about.
The theme of the 2018 Canadian Agricultural Safety Week starting March 11 to March 17 is supporting the senior farmer.
This is the last year of the Be an AgSafe Family initiative that placed an emphasis on children in 2016 and adults in 2017.
Canadian Agricultural Safety Week is a yearly awareness campaign supported between the Canadian Agricultural Safety Association (CASA), the Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA) and Farm Credit Canada (FCC) urging families to think about best ways to organize and assign farm work and get the job done safely.
This year’s special emphasis is being placed on Canada’s burgeoning numbers of active operators who continue to farm often well into their 60s, 70s and 80s.
Canada’s senior farmers bring a vast range of skills and knowledge to the industry — and there are more older farmers than ever. The 2016 Agriculture Census showed for the first time since 1991, the proportion of farmers under the age of 35 rose, but it also found there were more farmers over age 70 than under 35, meaning more older farmers are farming more acres and often farming well into their 70s and 80s.
At the same time, an older farm population is also one at higher risk for injury; data collected by the Canadian Agricultural Injury Report (CAIR) shows farmers over age 60 consistently had higher fatality rates than children and adults within the agricultural population.
There is no number that means you’re older, however.
“We all age at a different rate and changes happen,” says Glen Blahey, agricultural safety and health specialist with the Canadian Agricultural Safety Association (CASA).
“There’s no magic number that designates someone as being older.”
That’s why it’s so critical to pay attention to what’s going on with your own body.
Everyone eventually experiences declines in muscle strength as they age, and that affects one’s ability to do the same physical work they’ve done all their lives, he said.
Neurological changes also eventually alter one’s capacity for work, making jobs that require multi-tasking or require a quick response more challenging.
Reflexes slow and the aging body and mind may not react as quickly as before to a sudden situation, said Blahey.
A resource now available to farm families through CASA is the ‘job safety analysis’ (see sidebar below) developed to get farm families talking about how to best assess and assign farm work, said Blahey.
“Its purpose is to start a conversation, looking at a job and saying, what’s the minimum skill sets necessary to do that job?” he said.
“It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about a more mature farmer or a youth or a migrant seasonal worker who perhaps doesn’t have a good command of the English language,” he said. What’s important is asking, “what is the minimim ability and what personal risk factors do those people bring to the job and how do we choose the best kind of work to maximize the person’s skills?”
Manitoba Farm Safety Program
Keith Castonguay, program director with the recently established Manitoba Farm Safety Program (MFSP) said it really boils down to looking at each and everyone’s capabilities and limitations.
“The senior farmer brings a lot to the table,” he said. “Everyone understands that. It’s important that they be involved and active. It’s just that roles have to be identified.”
Next week the MFSP, launched through Keystone Agricultural Producers last year, will release via social media a series of infographics related to the safety week theme.
Take the time to evaluate body, mind, and the farm. Take breaks. Ask for help. Consider slowing down.
All are messages the national campaign will put out in hopes of reaching the country’s burgeoning population of senior farmers and their families.
Taking things in stride
Gregory jokes about he won’t arm wrestle the 22-year-old six-foot-four son he farms with now.
“I just don’t have the brute strength and the stamina that a young person has.”
But older can mean being better at many things too, he stresses.
For one, getting organized for another ag year is getting easier.
“When I look at this spring, I think I’m the most prepared I’ve ever been in terms of manpower and all the resources I need,” he said.
Plus, he just feels more serene about the whole affair. When you’re older you’ve seen it all — and then some.
“We’ve seen the price cycles and market conditions and poor crops,” he said. “It used to be we were so stressed out and the world was coming to an end. We’re kind of able to cope better. You learn to take things in your stride.”
Growing older is a reminder to stay healthy too, he adds. Because it doesn’t matter how old you are if you’re not.
“Look after your body,” he said. “I don’t know how to say this politely… but ‘keep the weight off.’
“Just be more physically active,” he continued.
“Especially in the off-season because then you’re ready to go. Go curling or get into old-timers’ hockey.”
How to conduct a job safety analysis
All work should be performed within personal limitations.
- Identify a specific job.
- Break down the job into individual tasks.
- Determine the minimum ability required to safely perform the task.
- Identify the potential hazards associated with each task.
- Identify the personal risk factors of the person performing the task.
- Determine the actions to take to eliminate or control hazards and address personal risk factors.
Minimum abilities include such factors as training, experience, physical and cognitive abilities. Personal risk factors take into consideration limitations that a person might have that impact how safely a task is performed.
— Source: Canadian Agricultural Safety Association