AG SAFETY WEEK: Safety plan campaign enters home stretch

Canadian Agricultural Safety Week this year kicks off the final year of a three-year effort to encourage development of on-farm safety plans.

"I encourage farm operations to assess, improve and if necessary further develop safe farming practices," Prince Edward Island’s Agriculture Minister George Webster said in one of many public-sector releases this week promoting the occasion.

"Even though this is a traditionally slow time of year, this week is a timely reminder of the need to ensure the safety of everyone involved on the farm," he said.

The sponsoring groups’ three-year campaign, dubbed "Plan. Farm. Safety," focuses in 2012 on the "Safety" component and continued development of safety protocols on farms.

The national ag safety week, running this year from March 11 to 17, is backed by the Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA), Canadian Agricultural Safety Association (CASA), Farm Credit Canada (FCC) and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

"From a FCC study, we know that 85 per cent of Canadian farmers understand the importance of maintaining farm safety to prevent financial loss, protect family members and to keep employees safe, but only one in 10 farmers has a written farm safety plan," CFA president Ron Bonnett said in a commentary.

"On our farm, we are like many of those farmers who do not yet have a plan in place. We are making it a priority to sit down before the next cropping season to identify and assess the safety risks."

Furthermore, in a feature on Ag Safety Week in the March 15 Manitoba Co-operator, reporter Lorraine Stevenson noted FCC’s 2011 Farm Safety Report Card found nearly two-thirds of 1,000 surveyed farmers continue to work when overtired and a similar number don’t go for medical checkups.

The FCC study found farmers have been taking more precautions around children and when handling equipment, and therefore gave Canadian farmers a "B" grade for overall safety.

One of the key elements of the three-prong campaign has been the development and implementation of the Canada FarmSafe Plan, Bonnett said. "This resource can be adapted to any sector of agriculture to guide producers through the necessary steps to develop a farm safety program unique to their operation."

In her report, Stevenson noted the Centre for Education and Work in Winnipeg, working with CASA, has developed an iPhone app for the Canada FarmSafe Plan, which lays out procedural steps for safe farm work and also specifies the training a worker or family member needs to do a given job.

"When (farmers are) trying to teach someone else, they’ll often say to a new person, ‘It’s common sense,’" CEW managing director Carol Ann Paul said in the Co-operator article. "Common sense to one person may not be common sense to another."

"Safety culture"

Bonnett, in his commentary, recapped the risks in terms of human resource losses, commodity losses and economic losses caused by incidents on-farm.

The Canadian Agricultural Injury Reporting (CAIR) program, he said, has found the average costs of workplace injuries to be $275,000 for a fatality, $143,000 for a permanent disability, $10,000 for hospitalization and $700 for non-hospitalized injuries, on top of possibly thousands of dollars of damage to machinery and property.

Commodity loss, meanwhile, may include loss of livestock, crops or buildings, lost productivity and downtime, and loss of optimal opportunity such as for seeding or harvest.

"There is also human resource loss and its impacts to consider and any prosecution or charges that may arise if the owner is at fault," he wrote.

"It is important that primary producers, volunteers, commodity organizations and the provincial government recognize the importance of creating and maintaining a strong safety and health culture," New Brunswick Agriculture Minister Mike Olscamp said in his separate release.

"Farmers and ranchers face various hazards by nature of their work and it is important to recognize the dangers and take the steps necessary to be safe," Saskatchewan Agriculture Minister Bob Bjornerud said in a provincial release.

"Safety is an extremely important aspect of working on and around a farm, and it is in everyone’s interest to safeguard farm workers, and for those involved with agricultural work to become aware of ways and means to protect themselves from potential harm," said Jerome Kennedy, minister for Newfoundland and Labrador’s Forestry and Agrifoods Agency.

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