Iwas looking forward to my late-summer vacation with the same mix of anticipation and dread as my farmer friends look forward to harvest.
There was a long list of outdoor jobs waiting for a few open days – provided the weather co-operated. Then, there was a plan to escape for a few days of camping and trail riding – again, if the weather co-operated, which was a long shot given the summer so far.
The onset of the nicest stretch of hot, dry weather we’ve seen this summer unleashed an intense burst of energy. I was rolling through my job list like a combine chews through a swath of ripe-and-ready crop. I was so focused on getting on to the next thing, I temporarily lost sight of the moment I was living. It was a costly lapse.
Dusk was descending as I headed to the pasture to bring the horses home one evening midway into my first week off. With one safely back in the paddock, I headed over for the other two. Conscious of the deepening darkness. I considered whether I should just take them one at a time. But that would have taken another 20 minutes and I had led these two horses together dozens of times over the summer.
So off we went, my hands firmly gripping the lead ropes on either side of me as we followed the ditch along the highway. The trip home was uneventful until we rounded the tree line into the yard and something rustled behind us in the grasses – possibly the garter snake we had already encountered in that spot a few times already this summer.
Both horses jumped but the one on my right knocked me to the ground. That startled him again, and he pulled backwards, wrenching my arm, which was still clutching the lead rope.
I heard something crack. My whole body started to shake. I knew I was in trouble, home alone, on the ground, and with two skittish horses loose by the highway in the dark – exposing someone else to the consequences of my stupidity. I simply had to get up and I had to get those horses behind the gate. Only then could I fish my cellphone out of my pocket and call for help.
In the end, I got off lucky, with a broken arm, bruises, and the realization that the only trip I’d be taking on my holidays was the morphine they gave me during my overnight stay in the hospital. My consolation is knowing it could have been so much worse.
This is about proclaiming mea culpa, not whining “woe is me.”
How many times have I helped deliver the farm safety message – how the decision to save a few moments can cost a lifetime?
I’ve heard the expression “accidents just happen” numerous times over the past two weeks, a comment that’s meant to be comforting in the wake of my injury. But if we are honest with ourselves, most accident victims will acknowledge their accident was caused – at least in part – by decisions that placed themselves or people around them at risk.
Environment and timing obviously have an impact. We might get away with shortcuts or risky behaviour time after time until something changes the equation. Then we are left with the instant replay button in our brains that replays the scene over and over again in our minds. But there is no reset button that lets us go back and relive the moment in a way that undoes the damage.
The Canadian Agricultural Safety Association (CASA) says farm accident fatalities in Canada are declining. But the data also shows agricultural injuries are not due to random or isolated accidents. “Instead, there are many recurrent patterns of injury – with agricultural machinery involved most often,” the CASA website says.
It would be strangely comforting writing this knowing the vast majority of readers would never, ever find themselves in a similar predicament because they never use the excuses that they “need to save time” or “we’ve always done it this way’’ for unsafe behaviour. But CASA’s 2008 farm safety report card, based on farmer surveys, indicates that sadly, I am in good company.
“Respondents report that the key barriers to practising safety measures are old habits (35 per cent) and time (31 per cent). In short, producers take shortcuts so they can get the job done,” the report says.
While it is laudable that producers got an “A” ranking for their commitment to safe livestock and machinery-handling practices, and “A+” for efforts to keep children safe on the farm, it would appear farm operators are still leaving themselves, their loved ones and their employees exposed to injury on two fronts.
Producers received a failing grade on their stress management efforts and for their propensity for working when they are tired – a major issue at this time of year and especially this year, when crops are late maturing.
We can’t control the quirks of fate. We can only manage the risks we take.
Don’t wait for a rainy day to rest this harvest season. Your wealth is first and foremost a function of health. Stay safe out there. You’re worth it. [email protected]