How technology is helping agri-retailers stay safe on the job.

Agri-retail can be a high-risk industry from a safety standpoint – organizations have competing demands, compressed work timelines, a variety of tasks and machinery to operate and often, seasonal employees. Safety training and adherence to safe work practices is important, but it can be easily overlooked, especially during peak season.

Some agri-retailers have turned to technology – websites, smartphone apps and digital programs – to put the emphasis back on safety while helping businesses save time, money and resources.

One of the companies creating this technology is 1Life Workplace Safety Solutions. The Winnipeg-based company has been working on the design, evaluation and implementation of safety management software since 2009. Founder and president Theo Heineman says that the number of clients in the ag sector is quickly growing.

“It’s a relatively new concept for the ag industry. It’s going to become more and more mainstream – 80 to 90 per cent of people have a mobile device today,” says Heineman, who also holds a degree in agriculture plant science and farmed until 2002.

“Agribusiness is one of the highest risk industries. Disability insurance is so high as a farmer and agri-retailer. They really need solid safety processes.”

1Life Workplace Safety Solutions offers multiple digital solutions, including: mySafetyAssistant, a “virtual safety professional” providing ready-made template policies, procedures, forms and checklists, legislative updates and record management systems; mySafetyTraining with more than 17 online courses and learning games; and mySafetyApp to view and complete safety documentation on smartphones and tablets.

Heineman says one advantage of digital applications is saving time and money, comparing the cost for a company to send its employees to a course (factoring in wage costs, course costs, travel costs and productivity loss) to the fees for an online course, which can be completed in three hours from virtually anywhere.   

“It’s about planning, it’s about giving our clients systems where they can receive far more resources much more quickly. They can train on a rainy day, on a snow day,” says Heineman.

“It’s stressful – businesses want to take care of customers, they’re busy with work. But the company can be shut down if an officer walks in and something isn’t right. We’re giving them peace of mind and the freedom to operate without worrying that there will be a problem,” she explains.

The Dual Approach

Glen Blahey, the Canadian Agricultural Safety Association (CASA) ag health and safety specialist, says online and in-person training is most effective when done as a dual approach.

“When they’re used in combination, they’re an excellent resource. The biggest benefit of the software is that it provides a good introduction and a jumping-off point for employees to get the general background information. When that is coupled with effective on-site training and the employer is prepared to provide detailed responses, it’s a terrific approach to use,” says Blahey.

Blahey warns of a potential shortcoming in safety training if an employer makes the assumption that the job is done simply because employees were told what to read and do online.

He says when it comes to safety training, the broader the sources of information, the better. “While online resources present all the information the developer thinks is relevant, users invariably will have a question or two that will be outside the box,” says Blahey. “Having the option of getting your unique question answered is important to you. As well, that question may be useful to the developer for consideration of future updates to the resource.

“Similarly, having someone provide you with a vast amount of information via an in-person presentation or lecture is great because you have the opportunity to directly clarify any concerns you may have. However, unless you are really good at note-taking, you will need some reminders. Of course, the online resource is perfect for that because it is all mapped out, and you can go back to it for those points that might have otherwise slipped your mind after the in-person presentation,” he adds.

Safety and Agri-Retailers

According to Heineman, 1Life Workplace Safety Solutions has a more than 90 per cent retention rate with clients who use their software. One of these clients is Dale McKay, general manager at Shur-Gro Farm Services and Munro Farm Supplies. The fertilizer, seed and crop protection company has been using the mySafetyAssistant software for three years and McKay says they’ve been happy with the results.

“Our feeling is that we’re better organized on it; we do a more complete job and more complete training. There are certain aspects that need to be renewed annually and orientations for new employees that we’re able to stay on top of,” he says.

At Shur-Gro, new employees frequently use the safety management software for orientation, while tasks like fit testing for ammonia masks and forklift training are done in-person. McKay says less than 10 per cent of employee training is done off-site. Now, the majority of it is online and is completed on branch computers.

“The online training is much more accessible,” says McKay. “We don’t have to send employees out or get a trainer in.”

By implementing both the in-person and digital software training methods, agri-retailers can have the best of both worlds while maintaining and building upon their workplace safety programs. 

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