Becoming ‘deadened to the risk’ can be worst nightmare

Listen to that nagging voice in-side that says something doesn’t feel right, say two accident survivors.

Curtis Weber and Wes Jamison, who both sustained serious injuries doing jobs they had done many times before, detailed their stories at the Canadian Agricultural Safety Association’s annual conference in Saskatoon Oct. 5-8.

“If you’ve got a question, ask it. If you don’t ask, it not only puts yourself at risk but a lot a lot of people at risk,” said Weber of North Battle-ford, Sask.

He narrowly escaped death at age 17 after being electrocuted when a grain bin hit an overhead power line in a farmyard.

Weber said the accident, which electrocuted two others, resulted in him losing part of an arm and leg and suffering burns to more than half of his body. It meant saying goodbye to promising junior hockey prospects as he faced six years of recovery.

He said his family, friends and others were also scarred by what happened.

“My coworker is still haunted, still relives it,” Weber said.

Jamison, a professor at Palm Beach Atlantic University in Florida with two PhDs, knew better but still forged ahead pruning a tree with a chain saw on a windy day while his child steadied the ladder beneath him.

Jamison, a specialist in risk and crisis communication, fell several metres to the ground, suffering numerous broken bones.

“You become deadened to the risk,” he said of such routine tasks.

He was so focused on the task that he didn’t see how it could spin out of control quickly.

“People tend to underestimate risks they are familiar with and overestimate the risk they are unfamiliar with,” he said.

In Weber’s case, he said he didn’t take the opportunity to speak up, noting seven workers stood under the power line discussing the hazard, knowing there were safer options and not choosing them.

“We walked away and didn’t de-velop a plan to do what we should do to make sure no one would die that day,” he said.

“I walked away thinking, ‘surely the boss won’t let that happen.’ ”

Today, Weber advocates safe work practices through his business, High Voltage Consulting.

He recommended companies create a culture of safety by conducting orientation sessions with young and new workers so everyone feels comfortable talking about risks and hazards.

“Give youth the tools to speak up about what they know. They know what’s right and wrong. We need to give them the confidence,” said Weber.

Jamison said the safety message should be simple, relevant and repetitious and delivered by a credible source, using highly emotional images.

“Show them the future if they follow through on what they are doing,” said Jamison.

He has found that service clubs and diners are among the best places to share such information.

“Construct messages so it causes farmers to step outside of what they think they know,” said Jamison.

Don Voaklander, director of the Injury Prevention Centre, said taking a minute to have a word with yourself can help you think of an alternative plan or route.

“Take a moment to think about what you are doing before you get on the top rung of the ladder,” he said.

Canadian Agricultural Injury Reporting from 1990-2012 lists tractors as the most common cause of fatalities among farmers, with most occurring from July to September. Most accidents involve rollovers and runovers followed by entanglements and being pinned or struck by machines. Forty-seven percent involve the farm operator, while 13 percent include farm children.

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