Elaine Bellamy suspected she had her work cut out for her when the provincial government announced its plans to improve farm safety in the fall of 2015.
So in January 2016, just as the Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act was coming into effect, Bellamy attended a workshop on creating a farm safety plan.
By the end of the day, her suspicions had been confirmed — farm safety was a lot of work.
“By the afternoon, I was exhausted,” said Bellamy, owner of Will Farms, a large grain operation near Rosebud.
“I knew that if this was what I needed to do, maybe I could do it. But I also knew that I would be facing months of paperwork and a very daunting task.”
So Bellamy did what farmers do when faced with a big job — got to work.
“I figured that if the legislation is coming and that’s what I’m expected to do, I might as well have a good attitude about it,” said Bellamy, who has two full-time employees and up to 13 seasonal employees on her operation.
“It doesn’t do any good to anybody to be negative about it. You might as well embrace it and move forward.”
But Bellamy knew she couldn’t do it alone. She just didn’t have the experience to build a farm safety program from scratch, so on the advice of a neighbour, she hired SAFEblu Fire and Safety to help her develop a plan.
“I looked at this and thought, ‘This is really going to become a full-time job for me,’” she said. “There is no way I could effectively compile all the hazards and rate their risk and figure out how to mitigate them on my own.
“But when I hired a professional safety person to prepare a plan for my farm, I was then able to concentrate on implementing the plan, not creating it.”
The plan “covered every area imaginable.”
As a first step, her consultant did an on-site visit to get acquainted with the operation, equipment, and team. As they walked around the yard, Bellamy learned what they were already doing well — and where they needed to improve. A favourite old blue ladder, out-of-date equipment maintenance records, and a fire extinguisher that had been sitting in the corner of the shop since the beginning of time — all needed attending to.
But what needed the most work was everyone’s attitude toward safety.
“I think the biggest challenge was getting my people to understand that they do have to do this now,” said Bellamy.
“We all thought, ‘This is the way we’ve done it all these years — why do we need to do anything different now?’ But they’re starting to understand that this is just the way it’s going to be from now on.”
Risking the farm
And as Bellamy has worked to implement her farm safety plan over the past three years, she’s found that the prospect of doing it was more daunting than the task itself.
“The more you do this, the easier it all becomes,” she said.
Today, all of Bellamy’s buildings and pieces of equipment have certified fire extinguishers and first aid kits, and each piece of equipment has up-to-date, easy-to-find service records. There are also pre- and post-use inspection checklists (which will be available to her staff as a phone app this year). She’s installed eye wash stations in her shops and mandated the use of personal protective equipment based on the task at hand.
Every morning, she sends a safety text to her designated safety officer, who will be holding weekly farm safety meetings starting this year. She’s put protocols in place for employees who are working alone and coached staff on the right way to inspect and operate their equipment.
All of her staff have received Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) and transportation of dangerous goods training so they can drive the fuel truck and work with chemicals safely. And this spring, Bellamy will be getting first aid training for all her staff.
“It’s all about due diligence,” she said. “If you’re the owner of your farm, this is one of the responsibilities that falls on your shoulders. If you don’t plan for safety and take care of these things, you risk your farm.”
But more importantly — you risk your people.
“Farm safety is crucial to our farm because we believe in taking care of our employees,” said Bellamy. “When I say I have all these people who help us during seeding and harvest, it sounds like I’m just hiring people off the street. No. These are neighbours and friends whom I’ve known my entire life.
“I couldn’t risk having something happen to them. I couldn’t live with it.”
The safety plan cost around $3,000 (half covered by a Growing Forward 2 grant) while the cost of safety equipment such as fire extinguishers, eye wash stations, and first aid kits was minimal, she said. About $10,000 was required for bin improvements, but those costs will be covered by the new provincial Farm Health and Safety Producer Grant program.
“In comparison to all the other expenses I have, it’s next to nothing,” said Bellamy. “If you value your land and you value your assets, you have to ensure that you’ve taken care of safety on your farm.
“If you don’t, you face the possibility of losing the most important thing that you value — your farm.”
For help in developing your own farm safety program, visit agsafeab.ca. (A video of Bellamy speaking about her safety plan can be found by clicking on the ‘Services’ tab and scrolling down.)