On-farm safety should be top of mind

As farmers, we are always at risk of on-farm accidents.

But one factor puts us even more at risk: stress. Even though farmers are generally safety aware when it comes to our own farming operations, we are especially vulnerable.

In a survey released by the Agricultural Producers of Saskatchewan in early April, farmers reported an average stress level of 6.23 (on a scale of one to 10; 10 being the highest level).

Another five percent of respondents reported “unbearable” levels of stress.

As vice-chair of AgSafe Alberta, which supports safer farms and ranches across Alberta, this greatly concerns me.

I know that on-farm safety may be the last thing on most farmers’ minds right now, but it needs to be one of the first.

We’ve all seen the tragic circumstances of not having safety plans in place — or having them in place, but forgoing them due to constraints in time, resources and finances. These shortcuts in safety can cost not only money, equipment or more obligations, but lives.

Our top priority must be the safety of our people. As farmers, we count on our workers every day. And for many of us, our workers are like family.

Having a developed, understood, promoted and followed safety plan in place on our farms protects everyone who travels on and off our operations.

Plans also help build a culture of safety in everyday lives.

Even though Occupational Health and Safety rules aren’t applicable to family farms in Alberta, being familiar with the best farm safety practices has the ability to prevent accidents and keep families safe.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • When making a safety plan, walk through the farm and look for potential hazards, not only through your eyes, but also through the eyes of your employees. Getting their thoughts on potential hazards may help identify some you didn’t think about.
  • Consider the time of year when making your safety plan: If you have new employees coming on in the spring, there will be different hazards to focus on than there would be in fall. Also consider who your employees are — are they familiar with your farm already? Plans will look different between smaller, family run farms and bigger operations that may rely on contractors.
  • Identify the high-risk situations on your farm. These could include working from heights, moving equipment, or working with animals.
  • Good farm safety means thinking of your farm employees as an extension of yourself. If you wouldn’t do a task, then why would you make an employee do it? Be aware of what your employees are capable of doing and what they aren’t.
  • Make sure contractors working on your farm have their own insurance and you have made them aware of potential hazards before they start work.
  • Consider getting help to make your farm safety plan. Every farm is different, and every safety plan will look different. AgSafe Alberta has free resources to help at www.agsafeab.ca/Resources.aspx.

As someone who has seen terrible consequences of not having a plan in place, I urge you to be proactive on this, not reactive. Remember: safety first.

Putting a plan in place now for your team and family will set you up for success for the year. Reviewing your plan every year is good practice, not only in stressful times, but all the time.

Erna Ference is vice-chair of Ag Safe Alberta.

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