Agri-retailers can play an essential role in encouraging safe farming.

The Canadian Agricultural Safety Association (CASA) and Farm Credit Canada recently conducted a survey of producers across the country that revealed a serious disconnect between farmers’ perception of farm safety, and reality.

While 75 per cent of respondents said they feel safe on their farm, 40 per cent indicated they had been involved in a serious farm accident, or knew someone who had.

“I think that kind of tells the story that although 75 per cent of farmers say they’re safe, our statistics show they’re not nearly as safe as they think they are,” says Marcel Hacault, executive director of CASA.

“The question is: how do we break that barrier and get them to take action? That’s been our struggle.”

The Role of Agri-Retailers

Safety on the farm isn’t the responsibility of one group alone. Keeping operations safe and accident-free is the responsibility of the entire industry, and will only work when everyone in the sector looks out for the safety of their colleagues and customers.

As one of producers’ most trusted sources of information, agri-retailers can and should play an important role in helping their customers adopt and maintain safe work practices on the farm.

Hacault notes that the high safety standards and regular training that takes place within most agri-retail companies give retailers a wealth of information on safe equipment and product use, which can be passed on to benefit
their customers.

“Most of the people working within a retail operation already have a sense of the safety culture and know what they’re doing in their own workplace to remain safe,” says Hacault. “As a result, I think they’re well positioned when they’re having that conversation with the farmer to be able to impart some of that safety culture.”

Hacault acknowledges that some agri-retailers might be reluctant to broach the subject of safety with customers because they don’t want to sound like they’re scolding or preaching. He suggests they treat it as part of the instructions and training that are an essential part of the safe and efficient use of any product.

“Of course agri-retailers will go through all the pros and cons of using this equipment, but maybe they can take a little more time to identify some of the pinch points and some of the best ways to install an item,” he says.
Farmers are far more likely to be receptive to such advice, he explains, if retailers make it a part of the regular conversations they have with customers.

“I think that would mean so much for everybody. Customers are already looking for it and most are receptive to it, so just include it. It demonstrates that you as a company value the safety and health of the customer you are dealing with, and it’s not just about the bottom line. It’s a great way to show you care for your customers. I think it strengthens that relationship.”

The key to any such conversation is tailoring the message to the type of relationship a retailer shares with their customer. While a cold call might not be the best time to broach the subject of safety, a longtime customer is far more likely to be receptive to messages of caring and concern.

“A lot of it is predicated on the level of the relationship with your farmer,” says Hacault. “If farmers are willing to receive safety information from their supplier, why not close the gap and actually provide them with some of the best practices or safety recommendations with the product?”

A Message of Concern

Mo Gudzowaty knows all too well about the tragic consequences of farm accidents. Prior to being hired as general manager of health, safety and environment for Calgary, Alberta-based Rocky Mountain Equipment, he served as a member of the RCMP and investigated farming accidents as part of his job.

“I’ve seen too much death over the years,” Gudzowaty says. “The tragedy is that every one of those accidents was the result of human error. There was not one that was a fluke or an act of god. Accidents just sit and wait
to happen.”

Gudzowaty says one of the easiest ways for agri-retailers to encourage customers to follow safe practices is to lead by example.

In the case of Rocky Mountain Equipment, he says the company has made promoting safety with its customers an everyday part of doing business. As one of the founders of Alberta’s Ag for Life initiative (www.agricultureforlife.ca), the company hosts regular safety nights for customers and their families and deploys health and safety coordinators in or near every one of its 35 branch offices across the country. They also conduct dozens of safety presentations in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba schools each year.

“Our sales people are there to emphasize to customers that it’s about them,” he says. “At first people thought it was kind of a pain. It was like ‘You just wanna sell me something.’”

He notes that through a prolonged relationship, customers eventually see that the concern for their safety goes far beyond a sales message.

“Now they see the consistency is there, and that Rocky Mountain does care and does believe in them,” he says. “Of course we want you to come back and buy something next year. But we want to be able to talk to you at the same time.”

In order to have constructive and productive conversations, Gudzowaty says agri-retailers need to avoid playing the shame game when it comes to promoting farm safety with their customers. Customers being confronted with criticism, rather than constructive advice, may be less receptive to crucial safety information coming from their agri-retailer.

“It’s a fact-finding mission, not a fault-finding one. You cannot motivate people to be safe through telling them what they’re doing wrong,” he says.

He suggests that mutual problem-solving is an effective and empowering way to approach safety issues. “You need to help them find the solution,” he says. “They’ve already identified the problem. If you want to sit back and complain about the problem, the problem’s just going to get bigger. It’s not about shaming. We want to make them better.”

Some Free Advice

Hacault encourages retailers interested in stepping up their safety outreach efforts, or who would like additional tips on how to promote farm safety to their customers, to contact CASA. One of the benefits of working with CASA, he says, is that it has access to a huge network of resources that can assist both farmers and agri-retailers.

“If there’s some type of resource, product or initiative that companies feel would really benefit themselves and their customers, then we’re here for that,” he says.

Through communication with groups like CASA and ongoing conversations with their customers, agri-retailers stand to make a positive change in Canada’s farm safety statistics. 

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