Farmers have a reputation for being “strong, silent types.” Growing up on a farm and getting my hands very much dirty alongside my father, I don’t disagree with some of this “salt of the earth” mystique, but I also think it’s time to move beyond the stereotypes.
Farms nowadays can be complex, highly industrialized businesses with product to develop and markets to access. But I know you know that already.
What you might not know is how important communication is in this new world of complex, production agriculture.
When working with producers on developing written health and safety plans, I always tell them that safety policies, standard operating procedures, and other critical workplace safety documents are not worth the paper they are written on if they aren’t communicated effectively to employees and contractors.
It seems sensible but it’s harder said than done.
The best bet for achieving outstanding communication is to start off on the right foot. Stress that employees are valued and their health and safety is a priority. Ensure they understand the importance of working safely. Ask them about their previous work experience. Did they receive any training? Remember to get copies of any certifications or accreditations they may have for your records. If they are a new hire, check their references to ensure they have a positive safety record.
Set a positive example
Make sure your safety policy is communicated to new hires and is posted openly for everyone else to see too. As a farm owner, you set an example for health and safety on the farm. So be clear about your responsibilities and live up to them.
Safety is a two-way street though.
Workers will invest in a safe workplace if they feel comfortable raising questions, contributing to safety solutions, participating in safety inspections, and openly discussing safety concerns, incidents and near misses. If you make pre-operational checks on tools, machines, and equipment non-negotiable, and insist on providing your workers with adequate safety education and training, safety will become a part of your everyday workplace culture.
In the event of a near miss, don’t forget, reflect.
Conduct an investigation and ask your workers several questions: Who was involved? Where did the incident happen? When did it happen? What were the immediate causes? Why did the incident happen? And how can a similar incident be prevented?
Everyone has a role to play in ensuring the safety of your farm, so cultivate an open, positive working relationship with your employees based on communication and trust.
For more information on communicating farm safety information or developing your own written health and safety plan, visit www.agsafety week.ca.