Honey farming may be sweeter but it’s no safer than any other farm business. That’s why one of Canada’s leading commercial honey-producing families has a living safety plan.
Tim and Pam Townsend started TPLR Honey Farms Ltd. at Stony Plain in 1979. Their son Lee and his wife Elise are now partners in this operation with 2,500 colonies spread over 60 quarters of land.
The Townsends are busy as – bees – from April through October. They keep bees and process all their honey, about 700,000 pounds a year. They routinely employ seven to 10 foreign workers, usually from Mexico, and up to four others.
Tim Townsend takes every new employee shopping for safe work gear. The farm buys each worker a pair of steel-toed boots, coveralls, bee gloves, and cotton hat with veil. Additionally, all relevant personal protective equipment (PPE) is provided – goggles, respirators, work gloves, etc. – and is stored in the areas where employees can access it easily.
Their farm operates with two sets of employees – one crew for the field and the other for processing. While workers don’t necessarily have to have experience with bees, they do need to learn continually as they go and are expected to adhere to all safety rules at all times.
Safe work clothes and gear are important but Tim has gone an important step further. An employee handbook has been developed for the processing plant and was translated from English to Spanish for the foreign crews. It took Tim about a month to collect, compile and customize the templates and checklists for the operation.
Tim reviews the handbook every spring and gives a copy to each employee. Later, he walks through the plant with the employees and points out relevant parts of the manual as they go. Workers are encouraged to ask questions.
Writing it down
The Townsend’s field crew is currently working with a verbal farm safety plan. Lee Townsend says he explains things as they go, however he is working on writing out the safety plan.
The field crew is primarily responsible for retrieving the boxes of honey and loading them onto trucks to take back to the processing plant. This requires a great deal of manual labour along with the use of tailgate loaders and pallet jacks to load the boxes onto van trucks and secure them with tie-downs. Good ergonomics and safe equipment operations are a primary concern.
Lee considers the most dangerous part of an apiary to be the handling of formic acid, oxalic acid, miticides and other treatment chemicals. For this reason, Tim or Lee do all such applications as they have the experience and knowledge.
“Our industry is not as high risk as some other types of farming, but the little things will get you,” says Lee. “We have been very fortunate so far to never have had a farm-related injury, however we don’t want to run on luck – we need a plan.”
The Townsends recently built a new processing plant with safety in mind. Old trucks and forklifts have been replaced, and new bee boxes were built to properly fit on the pallets to provide greater safety when moving them. Their new facilities are considered a model for apiary farm and food safety in North America.
“It was important to us that we ‘walk the talk,’” says Lee. “The initial cost for rebuilding and replacing everything for safety was a bit high, but it was also an investment in our future – and now our farm safety and food safety costs and risks are much lower – so it pays off. Farm safety is part of the cost of doing business and it is still much cheaper than the consequences of not doing it.”