Create a workplace culture that focuses on safety.

Building a strong culture of safety where employees aren’t just following the rules, but rather have safety top of mind at all times for both themselves and their colleagues, will help to prevent dangers in an agri-retail operation.

There are several ways owners and managers can build a culture of safety, including top-down engagement and proof that safety is integral to the business, as well as rewarding positive safety performance through bonuses, feedback or performance reviews.

Education and Communication

Twin Valley Co-op, a crop inputs provider with several locations in Manitoba, makes safety a priority from the get-go. 

During the recruitment stage, new employees are asked about their safety philosophy. Once hired, the employee goes through the safety orientation program, several online courses and legislated courses such as TDG (Transportation of Dangerous Goods) and WHMIS (Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System). 

“The new employee also takes part in a job shadow or mentorship period, which continues over time and is reviewed on a regular basis,” says Annette Dreilich, human resources manager and safety administrator at Twin Valley.

They encourage continuous safety with several initiatives, the most unique of which is their refresher event. This is an annual gathering in early spring, where employees get the chance to re-familiarize themselves with best practices for equipment and products before the seeding season begins. 

Dreilich believes that their culture of safety is crucial for a company like Twin Valley.

“If we were not doing our work safely there is no way we would be able to do what we need to do for our producers – especially during busy and stressful times like seeding, spraying and harvesting,” she says. 

Having up-to-date and easily accessible safety resources is also a priority. Working with safety consulting firm 1Life Workplace Safety Solutions, Twin Valley was able to move their updated safety manual online, and upgrade to an electronic format for their workplace safety and health program.

As a company that deals with hazardous products and equipment on a regular basis, Twin Valley recognizes the importance of identifying potential risk.

“If a hazard is identified, our workers know the process to get it fixed,” says Dreilich. “Everyone is taught to think that even if I don’t need to fix it for me, I need to fix it for the next person that is coming along.” 

Dangerous situations are sometimes allowed to persist because staff are reluctant to blow the whistle on their coworkers. To prevent this, Twin Valley workers are given the opportunity to anonymously share safety concerns through a written feedback forum. 

“We have a ‘spot-the hazard’ solution where we encourage our employees to document their good maintenance practices and to identify if further action is required. Communication really is key,” says Dreilich. 

Safety as a Value

The approach to safety at crop protection and seed supplier Dow AgroSciences is “Attitude plus behaviour equals a culture of safety.” The goal of executive management is to have all employees and contractors committed to safe work practices. 

“They must realize why they’re doing what they’re doing, why safety standards are in place and why it may take a little longer to plan or execute a risky task,” says communications lead Loralee Orr. “It boils down to compliance versus commitment. Do individuals follow safety requirements just to be compliant, or do they do it because they know what will happen if things go wrong?”

At Dow, safety begins at the leadership level. The executive management sets expectations for employees, and provides resources to support these. “This support is provided through people, as well as funding and allotting adequate time to complete projects and assignments safely,” says Orr.

The Dow AgroSciences “Future of Zero” program refers to the company’s goal of achieving a consistent zero-incident performance in the workplace. The program supports their broader company environmental, health and safety targets.

“Believe Zero is Possible” posters are located in each work group’s area, and meetings are held to discuss the “Future of Zero” program and to review the expectations. All employees and contractors have pledged to do their part to help reach zero incidents, and to create and maintain a safe working environment.

In addition to their safety programs, all staff meetings begin with a ‘Safety Moment’ where a recent incident and the resulting actions are highlighted. “This time of safety reflection is paramount to keeping our eye on safety and not allowing each new initiative to interfere with our commitment to send employees and partners home safely at the end of every day,” says Orr.

Employees are also expected to have at least one safety-related goal on their annual evaluation. This goal is discussed several times throughout the year with their leader to ensure safety stays at the forefront of their mind and becomes a value for them.

Encouraging Safe Behaviour

A Farm Credit Canada survey indicates that farmers depend on agri-retailers and suppliers for safety information and advice.
“Agri-retailers may not see being safety experts as part of their role, but the reality is that more and more farmers are expecting safety services as part of their purchase,” says Marcel Hacault, executive director of the Canadian Agricultural Safety Association.  “Expected safety services can be everything from advice on personal protective equipment, to safe crop-protection handling, to training on a piece of equipment.”

Hacault also points to initiatives like Canadian Ag Safety Week (CASW), of which Dow AgroSciences is a sponsor, as way for agri-retailers to engage producers in conversations about safety.

The CASW website features information and tips that help to create safe situations in businesses and on the farm, as well as resources that can be shared with retailers’ families and customers.

A team effort to approach safe practices from every angle is necessary to maintain safe spaces and practices in agriculture. Everyone in the value chain, from suppliers, to retailers, to producers can contribute to a culture of safety.
The agri-retailer should also have a company philosophy that supports the principle that everyone deserves to go home safe and healthy at the end of the day. “Everyone should have an expectation that the employer values their lives,” says Hacault.

By placing an emphasis on safety as a value, agri-retailers can encourage second-nature safe behaviours – not simply to comply with regulations, but to support the moral obligation of keeping everyone in their community out of danger.

Get your staff up to date on safe practices for TDG, NTSP, WHMIS and more with CAAR's suite of online and in-person training.

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