Manitoba takes takes action to improve worker safety

Farm safety comes with a cost.

It costs time to ensure proper education and oversight and to make sure that proper safety rules are well known by all and are being followed.

Employers also face more direct costs: those necessary to maintain or upgrade equipment or improve conditions at locations more prone to accidents.

However, those costs are minuscule compared to what could be accrued when approved farm safety practices are not followed. That much most farmers would agree with.

However, it is sometimes difficult to remember that principle in the midst of the rush and bustle of a busy farm day.

That’s why Manitoba plans to introduce an amendment this spring that would make safety and health orientations mandatory for every new employee starting work on a farm, including seasonal and part-time workers.

The law would apply to all industries. There are no exceptions for farm workers, as there have been with labour and health and safety rules.

Governments have been reluctant to force added expenses and regulations onto farmers.

The proposed Manitoba law comes with a wide range of recommendations that employers should address with new workers.

They include workers’ rights, emergency plans, locating first aid stations and fire exits, pointing out areas of potential hazards involving equipment or livestock, tricky areas to watch such as deep ditches and overhead power lines, water and power shutoffs, and policies for working alone.

There are suggested protocols and forms available from the Manitoba government to help guide employers. For example, others should know the location of any person working alone.

As well, that person must have a re-quired check-in time, by phone or text or in person, and if the check-in message fails to arrive, somebody else immediately investigates.

The proposed law is flexible enough to allow farmers to design their own orientation.

This is not to say that other prairie provinces are ignoring farm safety. Sask-atchewan and Alberta have extensive farm safety awareness and outreach programs, as does Canada nationally, through such organizations as the Canadian Agricultural Safety Association.

Most offer codes of conduct and manuals on farm safety protocols, as well as proper response guidelines to help in emergency situations.

But Manitoba is taking it one step further.

Glen Blahey, safety specialist with CASA, has said he doesn’t know of any other jurisdiction in Canada in which safety orientation is mandatory for new workers.

And it is coming at a time when high profile cases have been increasing pressure on governments to tighten regulations, particularly in Alberta where farm fatalities in the last year have prompted calls for farms to be included under Occupational Health and Safety and Workers Compensation Board regulations.

A simple health and safety orientation is, quite literally, the least farmers can do.

Yes, many employers are anxious to get new workers up to speed and earning their keep, but the costs of an accident far outweigh the time and expense of proper employee education and awareness.

The sheer human costs to the employee, as well as to family and friends that stem from a serious injury or death, are incalculable.

Other costs that more than offset the expense of farmers spending an hour or so with each new employee include finding replacement workers, continually training new people and additional down time, often during the farm’s busiest seasons.

Other provinces should take note.

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