Letters to the editor – May 29, 2014

Normalizing dangerous practices

My colleagues at the University of Saskatchewan’s Canadian Centre for Health and Safety in Agriculture receive your publication and consider it a respected source of information about agriculture on the Canadian Prairies.

However, it was with some concern that we read your May 1 issue featuring a front cover photo of a pre-school age child in a farm worksite. We’d like to describe why we feel this was problematic and how appropriate safety messaging could be delivered.

Every year in Canada, children are killed or severely injured while present in the work area on farms during the course of farm work activities. In many of these events, the child is in the company of an adult.

Of children younger than 15 years of age that died in these farm injury events, 73 percent were the child of the family that operated the farm and 44 percent of these children were younger than five years old.

In the farm environment, children are the most vulnerable group. In fact, the North American Guidelines for Children’s Agricultural Tasks recommends that children younger than seven years of age should not be present in the work area of the farm at all.

Although the photo has an undeniable “cute factor” and was certainly meant in the spirit of humour and human interest, the implications of children being present in the work area of the farm is a potentially lethal situation.

Our concern with a photo such as this is that it normalizes the presence of young children in the workplace and implicitly says that this is a safe and acceptable situation. It is not.

Although we raise this concern, we do so with respect for the agricultural heritage of our province and for the culture and traditions of farm families.

We are not looking to single out this family, criticize parenting or lay blame for this particular scenario.

In all fairness, we can’t see what is happening “behind the camera” and it may be that there is a parent or caregiver within arm’s reach ready to pull this toddler back should she get too close.

However, the impression given by the photograph really is that of a lone child overseeing an industrial process, and while that may be cute or funny to some, a deeper knowledge of the injury statistics makes it deeply unsettling.

Although we know realistically that children in the farm work environment is a common occurrence, the impression here of a child so young — not “chores age” — and seemingly unsupervised during such a dangerous process is something we would hope that many folks in the community would identify as risky.

We appreciate the efforts and impact of WP in spreading information that promotes health and safety in our farmers and rural communities.

The WP remains one of the best venues to communicate to this unique segment of Canada’s population, and we respect the role WP continues to play in this respect.

In the spirit of continuing to promote the health and safety of all those living in farming communities, we ask you to consider health and safety in your editorial decisions.…

We invite you and your readers to find out more about farm safety via the Agricultural Health and Safety Network, aghealth.usask.ca/.

Canadian Centre for Health and Safety in Agriculture (CCHSA):
Catherine Trask,
Canada Research Chair in Ergonomics and Musculoskeletal Health
Louise Hagel
Co-investigator, Saskatchewan Farm Injury Project
Niels Koehncke
Acting Director, Canadian Centre for Health and Safety in Agriculture
University of Saskatchewan
Saskatoon, Sask.

Media responsibility

The Alberta Centre for Injury Control & Research was shocked to see The Western Producer’s May 1, 2014, front cover showcasing a photograph of a very young child in the worksite of a farm with a caption stating that the child was wandering over to help her father and his colleague get their equipment ready for spring seeding.

According to the latest data for Alberta, the overall death rate for children 0 to 14 years of age has increased an average of 5.8 percent each year.

In fact, children of farm owners-operators represented the second highest group of victims at 23 percent of all agricultural deaths.

Every year, an average of four children living on Alberta farms died in agricultural activities. The main cause of death was from tractor runovers, where the child was a passenger and fell from the tractor or was a bystander.

Furthermore, over nine children were admitted to hospital because of severe trauma each year. Most of the severe trauma admissions were animal related.

Having young children on the worksite increases their risk for injury, even under adult supervision. A study of child farm injuries showed that nearly 80 percent of young children were injured while under adult supervision.

Furthermore, nearly 60 percent of the injuries occurred when the child was within the adult’s reach. The ability to attend to a hazardous task and a child’s safety at the same time is a fallacy.

The ACICR believes that it is a community effort to protect Albertans living and working on farms. The media is a community member that has considerable influence on farm safety through the images and news that it presents.

The Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation’s media guidelines include these recommendations relating to farm safety:

  • Depict agriculture for what it is — an intense, high-risk industry.
  • Show tractors with rollover protection structures.
  • Use the word “incident” rather than “accident.”
  • Only show images of children near large animals when appropriate barriers are evident.
  • Follow up on long-term implications of a serious injury.

As community members, we all need to remind ourselves and others that agricultural worksites are indeed worksites and not an extension of the home environment.

For more information about agricultural injuries and prevention in Alberta, visit the Alberta Centre for Injury Control & Research website, www.acicr.ca.

Dr. Don Voaklander, Director,
Alberta Centre for Injury Control and Research,
University of Alberta,
Edmonton, Alta.

Too much protection

Concerning the controversy over the sale of raw milk (May 1), there are already products sold legally that are universally known to be a health risk.

Cigarettes are proven carcinogens, cause emphysema and heart disease. Alcohol causes cirrhosis, FAS babies and dangerous behaviour.

In a free country, we have the right to make choices and enjoy the benefits or suffer the consequences. This is as it should be. Put a label warning on unpasteurized milk if need be, but surely we deserve the right to choose.

If Big Brother was to protect us 100 percent, we would not be able to buy any raw product: meat, fish, fruit or vegetables. Only fully processed food from FDA inspected facilities would be available.

Should everything that carries a health risk be banned, like skiing, horseback riding, even driving a car?

Ken Hoff,
Moosehorn, Man.

Independent think-tank

We’d like to correct some of the misinformation contained within a commentary piece by Jan Slomp in your May 8 issue.

The Conference Board of Canada in no way embraces an “all growth is good” mantra, and operates independently from the Conference Board Inc.

The Conference Board of Canada is this country’s largest independent think-tank. It makes evidence-based recommendations and is not an advocate.

Readers interested in learning for themselves about dairy supply management in Canada, and the Conference Board’s recently re-leased Canadian Food Strategy, can do so by visiting www.conferenceboard.ca.

Michael Bloom,
Vice-President Industry
and Business Strategy,
The Conference Board of Canada,
Ottawa, Ont.



Stories from our other publications