Winter can be a great time for planning, and safety planning should be included. Many producers have done environmental farm plans and have done safety plans. The next piece of the complex farm safety puzzle is one that is often is in the “assumed” category. The dreaded SOP (standard operating procedure). Why dreaded? Because of the variable nature of farming producers may rightfully feel uncomfortable with the SOP.
It is exactly because of the variable nature of farming that producers should have SOP’s for certain operations. These reinforce the training and farm safety plan as well as provide additional information to specific situations.
Across Canada farming operations are as varied as the farmers and mangers who take care of them. From large scale to micro each has specific safety challenges that should be addressed in a farm safety plan. The special nature of an SOP is individual to each farm operation, and should always be in compliance with local and regional laws and regulations.
Here are some examples of areas that should have an SOP in place.
Farming in different areas of Canada poses different operational and safety challenges in many areas from seeding and harvesting on steeply sloped fields, to loading and unloading in those same fields. Maintenance and repair is different in areas with geographical challenges such as steep hills, wetlands, or dry areas.
By creating an SOP, farm owners and managers can impart safety and operational knowledge to staff even when they are not present in field. An SOP for handling equipment in steeply sloped fields can provide direction that helps prevent things like rollovers, spillage and other equipment damage not to mention preserving human safety.
Not all farming operations are found on back roads or in remote areas. Many are now located near urban developments, busy highways and protected areas. These changes to the farming landscape require changes in farming operations. Are there noise bylaws? What bridges, overpasses and crossings are suitable for slower moving farm equipment? What size of buffer zones need to be provided for protected and residential areas? Municipalities can often provide this information and it is valuable for farm managers and owners to provide it for their infield staff.
In-field hazards such as well heads, high voltage lines, access roads for utilities, rocks or wetlands should be mapped and included in an infield SOP. How far should the operators stay away from these hazards, are they seasonal or only present during certain conditions? Are they permanent? Maps with an SOP, or provided with a field data app can be valuable to farm team members so they can understand the safe working areas of a field and areas to stay away from.
The importance of working safely in-field with other team members is critical. Larger scale farms often have multiple workers and varied types of equipment working in the same field at the same time. SOP’s can provide guidance for situations that may arise during field operations. Situations such as swathing in wet areas, equipment getting stuck, how to pull equipment out, working during low visibility or at night can be covered in a situational SOP.
SOPs can be field or area specific situational or task specific. Each SOP should be a part of the overall farm safety and health plan which fits the individual farm operation’s needs. SOPs can be flexible and should take into account the variable nature of farming. There is no need to fear the SOP, instead view it as a communication tool for infield staff.