When you tally up your assets on your farm, you probably count the big ones: land, machinery, inputs, buildings, stored grain. But do you count your people? Your workers, your family and yourself? You should. These folks are your number one asset and as such need to be guided and protected. Keeping these people safe will not only shield them from harm, but will also protect your entire operation.
There are different sorts of people that will interact with you and your farm. They might be hired workers, a neighbour lending a hand, your children, or maybe even your elderly parent or grandparent. These individuals all have a right to come home from your farm free from injury and illness. In particular, special attention and consideration has to be made for vulnerable workers.
According to the Institute of Work and Health vulnerable workers are defined as “specific groups of workers who may be vulnerable to workplace injury risks in different ways. Vulnerable workers may include young workers, women (in certain cases), recent immigrants (newcomers), Aboriginal peoples, older workers, those new to their jobs or working for new businesses, temporary foreign and seasonal workers, workers holding multiple, part-time or low-paying jobs and workers involved in temporary employment.” This seems like a long list, and it is, but it’s better to be aware that you might have someone on your farm that may be vulnerable to injury or illness.
Once you know the definition of a vulnerable worker, the next step is to identify them. Some workers are easy to identify as vulnerable. For example, a new worker is vulnerable — you know they aren’t trained on your farm’s machinery, or know your farm’s standard operating procedures. But other vulnerable workers might not be so easy to identify. Don’t make assumptions about the knowledge and ability of your workers but instead do periodical assessments that can help identify vulnerabilities and training and mentoring opportunities.
Just as some vulnerable workers might not be easy to identify, individual vulnerabilities may not be easily recognized. Something like literacy levels aren’t always easy to know. Some people are good at hiding their reading or writing issues, but anyone who cannot read signs or instructions is at increased risk for injury. Older workers may be very experienced at farm tasks, but may have physical limitations or take a medication that impact how they react in some circumstances. It’s important to note that individuals may not just face one vulnerability. An older worker may be a new worker whose first language isn’t English. Or you may have a young worker that is employed at multiple jobs. Identifying vulnerabilities among your workers might be a challenge, but it’s important to do so to keep them and your farm safe and productive.
In working with vulnerable workers, a respectful environment is essential. For fear of losing their job, or disappointing you or others on the farm, people might be hesitant to ask questions or speak up. Acknowledge that speaking up about safety is hard and be honest with your workers. They are there to do a good job for you and your farm and you are there to guide them safely through their work.
Strategies for training that are inclusive for all workers include things like pictograms, images and videos that are plain and easy to understand. Giving tours around the worksite and demonstrating tasks is also a good way to show vulnerable workers what’s expected. It’s also a great opportunity for questions and a good way for you to see how the workers function at specific tasks. Implementing a mentoring or a buddy system is a great way to help vulnerable workers learn and become more confident in their jobs. Training alone cannot remove all the hazards that your workers may face, however a complete and dedicated training program that uses strategies that address vulnerable workers’ needs will improve their awareness regarding hazards on the job.
Your farm is your legacy and your family’s future, but it’s also a workplace. Your responsibility is to your workers, your family, your farm and yourself. Addressing the needs of vulnerable workers is one step you can take to ensure your farm’s success.
You don’t have to create an orientation package or job training from scratch. There are plenty of resources that can help you create a safe and respectful environment for workers on your farm. If you’d like to know more, contact CASA at 204-452-2272 or at [email protected].