Dangers lurk in the workplace

Karen Morrison reports from the Canadian Agricultural Safety Association annual meeting in Charlottetown

Regulation and policy are not the best ways to create change on the farm and reduce injuries to children, delegates at the Canadian Agricultural Safety Association annual conference heard this month.

“We know trying to get into policy and regulation is not effective right now,” said Marsha Salzwedel, agricultural youth safety specialist with the Wisconsin-based National Children’s Centre for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety.

“The farming culture is very anti-regulation, anti-law, anti-government.”

She cited past child labour protections that failed to pass in the United States and the current challenges to Alberta’s Bill 6 within the farm community in Alberta.

Dan Trottier, a health and safety consultant and president of Tatonga Consulting, called the Bill 6 backlash and protest signs such as, “don’t fix what’s not broken and don’t change our culture,” a cultural problem affecting the ability to get out the farm safety message.

“How do we take children from playing in that playground all their life and have them see it as a workplace that can kill them? It’s not an easy fix,” he said.

“Get your foot in the door by helping them see it’s not for liability, money or legislation, but for kids on the farm.”

He said most workplaces provide orientation and safety training to new employees, but that is less common on farms.

“In agriculture, we slide through that,” said Trottier.

He suggested graduated safe zones on the farm based on a child’s competency level.

Salzwedel hopes that some day farm safety will be automatic.

“Hopefully, as the younger generation is more used to safety, clicking in seat belts and wearing bike helmets, they will become more open to safety and more open to regulation,” she said.

Casper Bendixsen of the National Farm Medicine Centre, an American institute, agreed regulations are not the best approach to reducing child accidents.

He said farms are dangerous work sites but also family homes.

“We have to design interventions that acknowledge the benefits of raising children on the farm because we need voluntary acceptance,” he said.

He proposed highlighting the benefits of raising children on the farm, such as doing chores for money, enhancing their business aptitude and families working on projects together and creating strong bonds.

Exposure to nature and caring for animals can also help children better handle anxiety and understand life cycles. In addition, recent studies have shown that kids raised on farms experience less asthma, allergies and inflammatory bowel diseases than the general population.

Bendixsen said instead of delivering safety messages that emphasize what not to do, parents should be asked to think about what can be done with structure and hazard identification and choosing age appropriate tasks that come with good instruction and supervision.

A focus on safety can also come from the many businesses that farms deal with, said Salzwedel.

“Organizations within the sphere of influence in agriculture gives us a new avenue to reach the farmers.”

She suggested incentives from banks and insurers, such as lower insurance premiums for implementing safety measures.

Salzwedel said the impact of other farmers is also important.

“One of biggest influencers on a farmer is still that word of mouth,” she said.

“If you can get your message out to one farmer, it will go to multiple farmers because they do talk to each other. There’s a lot of credibility placed in another farmer.”

Working with health-care providers is another way to get the message out.

Carolyn Sheridan, clinical director with Iowa’s Agrisafe Network, said her group uses social media and does presentations at agricultural colleges and high schools about exposures and provides personal protection start-up kits. Students are encouraged to produce videos or teach others about respiratory protection.

“It gets students thinking about the hazards but also making conscious choices based on a very succinct education,” she said.

Harvey Wolfe of Cause and Effect Communications said today’s teens share more information from peer to peer, so the approach to reaching them has to change.

Adults who are assigning farm tasks to teenagers should realize they may not make full disclosure when problems arise.

To reduce injuries, Wolfe suggested creating an open work environment where questions are encouraged. Avoid taking a rigid approach to discussing workplace health and safety, dictating the message and asking if it’s heard.

“Take a different approach,” Wolfe said. “Move from doing the talking to doing the listening.”

Make sure they understand the task given or the machinery used for a job.

“They are growing up in a culture where they are figuring things out for themselves,” he said of their ready access to online resources.

Safety demonstrations provided by Progressive Agriculture Foundation’s Safety Days are ways for both children and parents to learn.

Bernard Geschke, PAF program specialist, cited a number of websites that make free safety information available. He said word of mouth and hands-on activities are among the best ways to get the safety message to children.

At one safety day, children swirl their hands in a bucket of ice water and then try to pick up pennies at the bottom. They quickly lose feeling in their fingers, illustrating the dangers of falling into lakes and sloughs in winter, said Geschke.

“You can sit there and tell, but until you prove to them what actually is going to happen … they’ll remember that for the rest of their lives,” he said.

Trottier said those messages go back to the farm family.

“If both have the same training, they can challenge each other on what they’re doing. (Farmers) know how to grow things, plant the seed in safety programs and let it grow.”

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