Manitoba’s egg producers have been honoured for their industry-wide effort to develop an on-farm safety program.
At a Sept. 27 event in Winnipeg, the inaugural agriculture “SAFEty” award was bestowed at a gala event that could be considered an Oscar night for work safety efforts in the province. The program is a cross-sectoral effort that aims to promote a safe work culture throughout the province.
Farming, represented by the Manitoba Farm Safety Program, appeared on the awards list along with trucking, manufacturing, the motor vehicle industry, construction and heavy construction.
The provincial program chose and presented the Manitoba Egg Farmers with the award.
“What they were recognized for was not just what they did this year; it’s what they’ve done for the last three years,” program director Keith Castonguay said.
The Manitoba Egg Farmers has been working directly with Manitoba Farm Safety Program consultant, Morag Marjerison.
“Of all the groups that we are associated with, they’ve been the most active in developing a safety program. As a matter of fact, they’ve been one of the few that have been developing a safety program,” Castonguay said. “Rather than any individual or one group, we know that egg farmers have been working very diligently with Morag Marjerison to put together a safety manual and that’s pretty much unique in Manitoba right now.”
The producers’ group is finalizing its industry-wide safety handbook after 18 months of work. The plan must first gain the support of a working group made up of commercial egg farmers.
Cory Rybuck, Manitoba Egg Farmers general manager, says the document is a work in progress despite the award.
“While it was nice to be recognized for our efforts to date, we still have a ways to go to get things to where we want them to be,” he said.
Chicken coop safety was highlighted in March this year, after a producer in eastern Manitoba collapsed and spent two days in hospital with a suspected case of hydrogen sulphide poisoning.
The toxic gas is produced as animal waste breaks down and is a noted problem in enclosed livestock operations.
The safety plan will cover chemical fumes such as ammonia, Rybuck said, along with checking equipment, proper safety procedure and orientation for catching crews, employee supervision and on-farm safety policies.
“What they’re trying to do is sort of build some work process templates and create a resource binder, kind of laying out what individual farms’ responsibilities are under workplace safety and health,” he said.
The producer group plans to build on the drafted plan to address gaps or changing needs as they arise.
“It’s similar to the strategy that folks have taken with on-farm food safety programs, for example,” Rybuck said. “You kind of build a base and then, over time, add to it.”
Manitoba Egg Farmers hopes its working group will approve the plan by the end of 2017. It will then be updated at the next Manitoba Egg Farmers’ annual general meeting
“Again, realize that it isn’t going to be this fully comprehensive, multi-volume binder,” Rybuck said. “It’s just a starting point.”
The group met some initial resistance from farmers, who are reluctant about more paperwork and red tape. Rybuck, however, said he believes the plan will gain traction.
“We’ve got good buy-in initially,” he said. “Certainly, the working group has a wide variety of farmers geographically and size-wise. I think folks, farmers, do a lot of good things on farm that aren’t recognized through documentation.”
The producers’ group also argues that the document will give more leverage to farmers should their farm ever be inspected by provincial authorities.
The “SAFEtys” are a new program for 2017 after provincial safety organizations were inspired by the North America Occupational Safety and Health Week, May 7-13.
The farm award’s criteria is still loose, Castonguay said, although he expects that to tighten in the future.
“There wasn’t a lot of time from the conception to the actual award,” he said.
Award criteria will be approved by Manitoba Farm Safety’s farm safety council, which represents different industries, regions and Safe Work Manitoba.
Castonguay also plans to start the selection process earlier next year.