Farmers still get failing grade on safety implementation

Canadian farmers need to make safety a higher priority, says the executive director of the Canadian Agriculture Safety Association.

“We need to convince farmers to embrace a safety culture that is part of their daily routine,” Marcel Hacault told the association’s recent annual meeting.

On average 104 people die in accidents on Canadian farms annually, he said. Nearly half were the farmer or a family member.

“While 85 per cent of farmers will say safety is important, only one in 10 do anything about it,” said Hacault. “We have to narrow that gap between intent and action. Farmers not only work on the farm, but they and their families live there.”

The association studied 1,975 farm fatalities between 1990 and 2008, and found 70 per cent were caused by machinery, including 46 per cent who died in tractor rollovers. Run-overs and entanglements were next.

A Saskatchewan study found older farmers and young kids are most vulnerable, Will Pickett, a professor of public health sciences at Queen’s University, told attendees.

“The study has determined that fatigue is the No. 1 farm safety hazard,” said Pickett. “Long hours working combined with insufficient sleep or sleep disorder leave too many farmers at risk. And the long hours affect child supervision because the parents often have to bring them into the workplace.”

The association already offers a program to help farmers develop safety plans for their operation, and also operates an injury surveillance program and an online service that allows farmers to report design and performance issues with agriculture machinery.

If protecting themselves and their families isn’t incentive enough, 34 per cent of Canadian farms use paid labour, “which makes it all that more important to have safety plans,” Hacault said.

The farm safety association is working on programs to bring attention to risks posed by abandoned pipelines, better signage for farm machinery moving on public roads and working with producer associations on lobbying governments on safety issues.

“This year, we want to really engage farmers,” Hacault said.

That won’t be easy because Agriculture Canada has slashed its support for the organization. It has lined up 25 corporate and association sponsors and is looking for more to make up for the loss of government support, Hacault said.

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