Left: Speakers from the “On the Record: Working Safely on the Farm” panel discussion. From left to right: Donna Trottier, Humphrey Banack, Amanda Pach, Bruce James, Russel Hurst and Trevor Tapp. Photo: CASA

Industry experts offer solutions for implementing safe workplace practices on the farm.

Producers know they should take the right steps to run their operations as safely as possible. But the realities of time constraints, generational attitudes and typical day-to-day dilemmas means that safety can sometimes fall by the wayside.

This was the focus of a panel discussion at the Canadian Agricultural Safety Association’s (CASA) annual conference, held in Edmonton from October 3 to 5. The panel was comprised of producers, safety experts and industry members who discussed the many barriers to farm safety, while also providing practical solutions to overcome them.

Russel Hurst, vice-president of sustainability and stewardship at CropLife Canada, spoke on the panel and says there is a significant difference in attitudes between generations when it comes to safety.

“Younger farmers are typically more aware of industry safety programs and, generally speaking, they choose to use safer practices,” he says. “Older farmers don’t usually put as much social value on safety programs and we do see a generational gap when it comes to safety.”

Producers can start small when it comes to creating a safety plan. They can build it up over time so they’re not intimidated by trying to implement a large-scale safety strategy in a short amount of time. Donna Trottier

Time can also contribute to a lack of safe practices on the farm. According to Donna Trottier, panel speaker and farm and ranch safety extension coordinator with AgSafe Alberta, producers sometimes think safety takes too much time.

“They think they need this big safety program in place and that they need someone on their farm to exclusively implement this program,” she says.

While most producers already have some safety procedures in place, she adds it’s worth taking the time to formalize those procedures and create a documented plan.

“Producers can start small when it comes to creating a safety plan. They can build it up over time so they’re not intimidated by trying to implement a large-scale safety strategy in a short amount of time,” says Trottier.

Leading by Example

According to Hurst, retailers can take steps to help their customers overcome the mental and physical barriers preventing them from implementing safety measures on their farms.

“Retailers can do three main things when it comes to helping their producers operate more safely,” he says. “Lead by example, include safety reminders in your conversations with your customers and help them disseminate information that is applicable to their farming operation.”

While producers are legally required to follow certain safety procedures around pesticides, fertilizers and other crop inputs, Hurst says it’s still important for retailers to be aware of the image they present to their customers.

“When you’re delivering fertilizer or crop protection products, as an ag retailer, you have to set a good example for your customers,” he says. “Ensure your staff are all wearing proper safety gear. It’s the law, but it’s also setting a good visual example.”

Trottier adds that retailers should make sure customers know the hazards of a particular product and what precautions they must take to use it safely. “Retailers can encourage producers to put the proper control measures in place and encourage the use of safe work practices when handling products,” she says.

Beyond sharing product-specific information, Hurst says retailers can integrate broader safety topics into other interactions with their customers.

“Retailers have a lot of face-time with farmers. They can use this time to remind their producers to be safe, not just when handling specific products, but for thinking about safety in general,” he says. “They can position these reminders in a non-aggressive way, so it can be a peer-to-peer conversation.” 

By making safety a regular topic of conversation, retailers will have more opportunities to disseminate the safety information that is available from sources like CASA, AgSafe Alberta and Health Canada to their customers.

“The trick is getting that information into the right hands. Retailers can help do that by staying on top of the latest safety developments and breaking that information down for their customers,” says Hurst.

Speaking the Right Language

For every farm decision, there are economic, social and environmental drivers. Depending on who you are, you may place more weight and value on one more than the others. Russel Hurst

Every producer has their own motivations when it comes to creating and implementing safety plans on their farm. This is why Hurst says using the right language is key when retailers discuss workplace safety with their customers.

“For every farm decision, there are economic, social and environmental drivers. Depending on who you are, you may place more weight and value on one more than the others,” he says. “Some people value economic drivers the most, while others value environmental drivers.”

Trottier says tying safety messaging together with productivity and economic risks can be an effective way to put safety into perspective for producers.

“Producers are already managing risks associated with weather, the markets, disease, pests and the environment,” she says. “We’re encouraging producers to add safety to their overall risk management strategy. It will impact your productivity down the line if someone gets hurt and has to miss work because they’re injured.”

Tying these factors together aligns with Hurst’s idea that the industry should begin to look at safety from a “holistic” approach.

“Farm safety means many different things to many different people,” he says. “Safety is more than preventing tractor rollovers or grain entrapment – it’s all those things and more. We have to look at the bigger picture.”

Visit agsafeab.ca for quick-start guides to create a safety plan and more safety resources.

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