Farmers urged to adopt written safety plans

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In a Farm Credit Canada survey, 85 per cent of respondents said safety is a priority on their farm, but the same survey found those good intentions don’t always translate into good practices.

Nearly two-thirds of the 1,000 farmers surveyed continue to work even when overly tired and similar number don’t go for regular medical checkups. And fewer than one in 10 have a written formal safety policy, according to FCC’s 2011 Farm Safety Report Card.

The survey did find farmers take more precautions around children and when handling equipment, and so the report card gives Canadian farmers a “B” grade for overall safety.

The survey was undertaken to support the three-year theme of the Canadian Agricultural Safety Week’s “Plan Farm Safety” campaign emphasizing the adoption of a Canada FarmSafe Plan, or written safety plan. The Canada FarmSafe Plan is an online guide, flexible enough for any farmer in any sector anywhere in the country to create a customized health and safety plan for their own farm. It was developed by the Canadian Agricultural Safety Association (CASA) in conjunction with farm safety specialists and farmers across the country. 

After two years of promoting this resource, its proponents are hoping the message is getting through.

“This year we’re hoping to engage farmers to make a commitment to it,” said Marcel Hacault, executive director of CASA which is headquartered in Winnipeg.  

The Canada FarmSafe Plan (available online at www.planfarmsafety.ca) recommends best management practices and the core plan includes all the steps a farmer would need to be in compliance with general occupational health and safety requirements. 

It’s a different approach because it links good safety practices with achieving business goals, said Hacault.

“We’ve provided these checklists and audits and walkabouts for 20 years now  and that hasn’t really taken hold,” he said.

The new approach seems to be generating more interest, he said. 

For instance, the province of Ontario has decided to customize and license the plan as the Ontario FarmSafe Plan. Cargill has also embraced the plan and now provides it as a customer service product.

Reaching more farmers

But getting more farmers to create safety policies remains a challenge, said Hacault. The FCC survey also found fewer than 24 per cent of producers sought to access farm safety resources in the past year.  

“We are trying to figure out how to reach them,” Hacault said. “We’re missing that link of farm safety to business management. Our challenge is to make that link.”

Research shows companies with good occupational health and safety policies and systems in place do outperform those without, he said.

Hacault said he’s encouraged by another FCC finding that farmers want more training in specific areas of safety such as first aid. Almost 88 per cent surveyed by FCC said they’d like to take safety training. 

CASA plans to identify safety-training opportunities available and package them so they’re easily accessible to farmers, Hacault added. 

“That is going to be coming up in our national farm safety strategy …  How do we develop all the other tools to help support the farmers once they’re engaged?”

The FCC’s report card’s results — which mirror the findings of the 2008 report card — were disappointing, but no one was expecting a quick change, said Hacault.

“This is a slow ship to turn around,” he said.  “We’re talking about a behavioural change and a cultural change. Look at how long it takes for seatbelts or non-smoking campaigns to take effect. This is generational change that we’re working on.”

Canadian Agricultural Safety Week, which runs from March 11 to 17, will kick off the organization’s 2012 campaign, which is being delivered in partnership between the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, FCC, and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

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