“We like the things that summer brings… Summer brings so many things!” exclaims a favourite childhood book of mine that I now read to our children.
Summer is a time of fun and excitement, it is truly filled with so many wonderful things for farm families. Summer is also an incredibly dangerous time of year. Farmers and their workers, including children, are exposed to a variety of hazards on the farm and in rural, remote locations. Threats vary in immediate risk from prolonged exposure to sunlight and insects carrying a variety of diseases, to working with heavy PTO and non-PTO equipment.
One thing I hate about summer are the dreaded radio reports, or the feared phone call, when someone shares news of a farm accident, or the very worst, a farm fatality. We all know victims and families who have been impacted. It is the most horrible thing ever. Farm accidents resonate so strongly with us, with other farmers, families, and neighbours because in almost every case, victims are just like you or I. They were simply doing their jobs as they had so many times before. They were capable, cautious people, not overt risk-takers. One can’t help but think, if it happened to them, it can happen to us too.
So how do we prevent farm accidents? It’s a question farm safety advocates, farmers, and families have been trying to answer for decades and it’s obvious, there is no quick solution. It’s a complicated topic that everyone agrees needs to take centre stage, yet farm accidents continue to occur across Canada.
From my own experience, every time I hear of a terrible farm accident, I do spend the next few days taking a little extra time when doing jobs, taking more opportunities to explain risks to my children, and generally think about safety a bit more. I see our ranch and farm operations with fresh, albeit scared eyes, and notice things that once were part of the background all of a sudden jumping out as potentially unsafe. A major challenge of farm safety is that we live where we work, and we become habituated to on-site hazards. Unfortunately, inevitably the shock factor fades, and I lapse into old habits and previous inadequate ways of approaching safety. That’s simply not good enough.
Recently, FarmOn.com created a series of farm safety videos that can be viewed at YouTube.com/user/FarmOnVideos/videos. There are longer videos that share the stories of victims through their families, as well as shorter films that demonstrate farm hazards. Please take the time to watch and share these videos. They are haunting and very impactful. They are not easy to watch, and they all have a common theme throughout — “it happened so quickly.” The films also touch on valuable points, like making safety just as important of a topic on our farms as business management and production practices. One victim’s family points to the fact that people take workplace safety more seriously in non-farm environments, and it must be a priority on farm environments as well. Another victim’s family says that farms employ accountants, lawyers, even cooking staff, perhaps it’s time to bring in safety experts who can help farmers evaluate safety hazards and mitigate risks.
There are no easy answers. Farming is dangerous. Hazards are real. However, maybe some first steps are to share the hard, gut-wrenching stories. Discuss safety regularly with everyone, including owner/operators, workers, children, neighbours. Look at your surrounding with fresh eyes, watchful of potential dangers. Think about what you would do in an emergency. Do you have cell service? Who would you call? Do you know your exact land location? Who on site has First Aid? If working alone, does someone know where you are? Do they know when to expect you home?
Let’s keep the joy in summer. Let’s slow down. Let’s keep farm safety at the forefront.