Opinion: During stressful times, the risk of a farm accident goes up

The pandemic has increased our stress levels and that’s all the more reason to be safety aware

When making your safety plan, walk through the farm and look at any potential hazards not only through your eyes, but also through the eyes of your employees.
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As farmers, we are always at risk of on-farm accidents.

But one factor puts us even more at risk — stress.

Even though farmers are generally safety aware when it comes to our own farming operations, right now, in the midst of so much uncertainty, we are especially vulnerable.

In a survey released by the Agricultural Producers of Saskatchewan last month, farmers reported an average stress level of 6.23 (on a scale of one to 10, with 10 being the highest level). Another five per cent of respondents reported “unbearable” levels of stress.

As the vice-chair of AgSafe Alberta, which supports safer farms and ranches across the province, this concerns me greatly.

I know that on-farm safety may be the last thing on your minds right now, but it needs to be one of the first.

We’ve all seen the tragic circumstances of not having safety plans in place — or having them in place, but forgoing them due to constraints in time, resources and finances. These shortcuts in safety can cost not only money, equipment or more obligation, but lives.

Our top priority at all times should be the safety of our people. As farmers, we count on our workers every single day. And for many of us, our workers are like family.

Having a developed, understood, promoted and followed safety plan in place on our farms protects anyone — employees, contractors, visitors — coming on and off your operation. Plans also help to build a culture of safety not only applicable to farms, but in everyday lives.

Even though Occupational Health and Safety rules aren’t applicable to family farms in Alberta, being familiar with the best farm safety practices and the application of them to your farm has the ability to prevent accidents and keep your family safe.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

When making your safety plan, walk through the farm and look at any potential hazards not only through your eyes, but also through the eyes of your employees. Getting their thoughts on the hazards on your farm may help identify some that you didn’t think about.

Consider the time of year when making your safety plan: If you have new employees coming on in the spring, there will be different hazards to focus on than there would be in the fall. Also consider who your employees are — are they familiar with your farm already? Plans will look different between smaller, family-run farms and bigger operations that may rely on contractors.

Identify the high-risk situations on your farm. These could include working from heights, moving equipment, or working with animals.

Good farm safety means thinking of your farm employees as an extension of yourself. If you wouldn’t do a task, then why would you make an employee do it? Be aware of what your employees are comfortable and capable of doing and what they aren’t.

Make sure that any contractors performing work on your farm have their own insurance and that you have made them aware of the hazards on farm before they start work.

Consider getting help to make your farm safety plan. Every farm is different, and every safety plan will look different. AgSafe Alberta has free resources to guide you through creating a safety plan that works taking into account the size and type of operation you have. To find them, go to www.agsafeab.ca and then click on the Resources link.

As someone who has seen the terrible and sometimes tragic consequences of not having a plan in place, I urge you to be proactive on this, not reactive. Remember: Safety First.

Putting a plan in place right now for your team and family will set you up for success for the year.

Reviewing your plan every year is just good practice — not only in stressful times, but all the time.

Erna Ference and her family operate a broiler chicken operation near Black Diamond. The Canadian Agricultural Safety Association is offering three online safety courses at no charge until Sept. 30. It also has COVID-19 safety resources at www.casa-acsa.ca.

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