Trained employees reduce farm’s risk

PORTAGE LA PRAIRIE, Man. — The first day of work can set the tone for the hundreds of days that follow.

With that in mind, the Manitoba government will soon require all employers, including farmers, to hold a job orientation session for new employees.

Jeff Shaw, provincial farm safety co-ordinator, said orientation plays a key role in accident prevention.

It can make a world of difference if new employees know what to avoid, where to find emergency equipment and when to ask for help.

“Every company I’ve worked for has had an orientation. Take a tour of the farm. Go through where everything is…. Get them familiar with your farm,” said Shaw, who spoke at the Manitoba Young Farmers conference held in Portage la Prairie Feb. 26-27.

“You might go through the tasks that the worker is going to be doing…. You might talk to them about water shutoffs, where the electrical shutoffs are, where first aid kits are, where fire extinguishers are located.”

The Manitoba government intends to make workplace safety orientations mandatory for every new worker, according to a provincial document released a couple of years ago.

Shaw said the legislation would apply to all new workers, even farm labourers who might work for only a few days at harvest time.

Glen Blahey, safety and health specialist with the Canadian Agricultural Safety Association, said he isn’t aware of another jurisdiction in the country that requires orientation for all new employees.

“Legislation aside, it’s just good business sense when you have a new person working for you, that you make sure they understand all the implications of what they’re doing … and what they should be doing and shouldn’t be doing.”

Blahey, who also spoke at the 
Young Farmers event in Portage, has preached about the value of farm safety orientation for years. He re-called a comment from several years ago when a farmer scoffed at the practicality of orientation for short-term employees.

“This gentleman, he said, ‘Glen, get real. I’m hiring the guy for four hours…. I’m not going to waste an hour talking to him about safety and being careful. I want him to do the work.’ ”

In response, Blahey asked the farmer to consider the issue from a personal perspective.

“That individual is someone’s grandchild, it may be someone’s husband or it may be someone’s father,” Blahey said. “Would you want (orientation) for your child or your grandchild or your brother?”

Blahey said it’s important to view orientation as a benefit to the farm rather than an annoying task.

“It’s really all about business risk management,” he said. “Ensuring that you’re protecting your assets … the human capital, the people that work for you, (who) are in extremely short supply in the ag sector.”

Shaw agreed, adding the health of all farm employees, from novice to veteran, can have a major impact on the bottom line.

“So if a worker goes down, who’s going to replace that worker in a short amount of time?” he said.

“That’s a huge strain to your business, your family and other workers as well.”

Shaw said farmers often assume new employees possess the common sense required to perform agricultural tasks. However, certain things are common sense only when you’ve spent a lifetime on the farm.

“I hear the common sense myth a lot. It bugs me,” Shaw said.

“To you it is common sense…. To somebody else it’s not.”

He said it’s also important to document the orientation and any other training on the farm. If there is an accident, investigators will want to know if and how the employee was trained.

“You want to have the proof,” he said. “You want to make sure you’re protecting your business.”

Employees need to sign a document stating the training occurred.

That sort of documentation may be tedious, but Shaw said it’s important to treat farm safety as something more than regulatory compliance.

“Paperwork alone does not solve anything.”

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