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Gearing up on the farm: the right equipment makes you safer

Make sure your personal protective gear is in place, fits properly and works

How would your farm fare if a workplace safety inspector suddenly showed up?

If you have a sneaking suspicion you might flunk that test, you’re not alone, according to the Manitoba Farm Safety Program.

Morag Marjerison, farm safety consultant with the program, says she expects farms will see more safety inspectors in the future, something that was once unheard of. But with more farms hiring more non-family staff they’re now on the rise.

Why it matters: Farms may see more inspectors in the future, safety consultants have hypothesized, but those same safety experts say they still see safety gaps in the yard sites they visit.

The farm safety program noted common gaps, as well as furnishing general safety advice, during two workshops in late November, held in Brandon and Winnipeg.

There should be no short sleeves in sight when it’s time to spray, one Health Canada speaker said. Daniel Dupas of Health Canada’s Pesticide Compliance Program urged producers to wear long pants and long sleeves when handling pesticides, something that some farmers may let slip in the summer heat.

Similarly, Dupas said, pants should cover boots (themselves unlined and chemical resistant, not leather or cloth) and that chemical-resistant gloves should be worn with drips in mind — over top of the shirt with a cuff to catch drips if spraying overhead, inside the sleeves if spraying downward.

The ball cap, almost omnipresent on farms, was pegged as another unexpected source of chemical exposure. Cloth garments may soak up chemicals and the contaminated cloth of the cap is left in constant contact with the scalp, Dupas said, an area of the body that Health Canada says soaks up about 35 per cent of chemical it is exposed to.

Dupas suggested either coveralls with chemical-resistant hoods or rubber rain hats as a replacement. Both boots and gloves should be washed after chemical exposure, he said, and, in the case of gloves, washed twice, both before removal to avoid accidental exposure and after use to avoid remaining contamination.

Contact lenses got a similar thumbs-down, assuming the farmer is only wearing goggles as eye protection, Dupas said.

“Lots of farmers don’t use any personal protective equipment (PPE) at all or, as the presenters were discussing during the meeting, they might be using the wrong PPE or not wearing it correctly,” Marjerison said.

Respirators drew particular concern from Marjerison. She has noted many farms using only dust masks while working with chemicals. In truth, she said, those masks are not designed to protect from chemicals and producers should be using a half- or full-face respirator mask.

Harnesses

Dust masks, rubber gloves and earplugs may be found in almost every farm shed in Canada. Harnesses, however, are far more rare. The Manitoba Farm Safety Program and workers’ safety regulations both mandate harnesses for working at height and in confined spaces, although Marjerison says few farms have harnesses on hand.

Denny LeBlanc, an instructor with Elite Safety Services, says few people consider harnesses outside fall prevention. In confined spaces, however, the instructor touted the harness for extraction, and something that would allow rescuers to get to a co-worker in trouble without entering the space and risking themselves.

Some worker safety regulations, however, may be a bitter pill for the realities of the farm. Farmers are often working in isolation both in confined spaces and near large machinery.

Regulations require at least one other person to be present and harnesses to be worn whenever someone enters a confined space, yet farmers may balk at the idea of getting into a harness every time they need to enter their combine hopper.

“They don’t give a whole lot of thought to what could happen in there, because there’s work in there that needs to be done,” Marjerison said.

Marjerison was not moved by the arguments of inconvenience, arguing that two minutes to get into a harness does not outweigh the benefit if something goes wrong. She did, however, acknowledge the logistical issues that lone farmers might face.

Farms with a single primary operator may not have anyone to call if a farmer needs someone to stand watch outside machinery or bins.

More preplanning may be needed, Marjerison said. She suggested planning confined space work for times when another family member or neighbour can be on site, as much as possible.

“If they’re entering into a bin or entering into a confined space by themselves and something goes wrong, how long is it going to be before somebody finds them?” LeBlanc said. “That’s the biggest concern, making sure that they’re able to get out and that they’re there for their families at the end,” he added.

LeBlanc pointed to the 2009 death of a farmer near Newton. The man was found at the bottom of a grain bin after a neighbour found his still-running equipment and, becoming alarmed, sparked a search.

About the author

Reporter

Alexis Stockford is a journalist and photographer with the Manitoba Co-operator. She previously reported with the Morden Times and was news editor of  campus newspaper, The Omega, at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, BC. She grew up on a mixed farm near Miami, Man.

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