Many farmers work alone. Whether in the field or in the shop, there are many dangers for a solo farmer.
There are some things we can do for our own safety while working alone.
1. Use technology
We have technology on our side in the ongoing struggle to farm safely. Cell phones, iPads and even iPods can connect to the internet and give you a life saving link to help.
As you already know, much of Canada’s farm country does not have wireless Internet coverage but most have some degree of cellular phone service, and even in marginal areas texting can work.
It might be hard to get some older farmers to use this technology but it could be lifesaving for them. Encourage them to try it. It will increase their margin of safety.
2. Put on the brakes
Always make sure to never leave a machine, truck, quad or gator in gear while you are not operating it. Put on the brakes with it in neutral.
3. Watch those animals
Never get in a pen or trailer with animals while you’re alone. More than one farmer has been killed by his pet cow or kicked by a trusty old horse.
Most North American livestock handling systems are not meant to be safely operated by a single person.
4. No open machines
We know the obvious dangers of augers and open belt run machines. The graphic reminders are at every farm show safety booth. And yet they still cause injuries.
Make it a farm rule to never get close to an open working machine with no guards. Make it a farm rule to turn it off before you work on it. Sure, it takes longer. But if it keeps your farm injury free the time is an investment, not a cost.
5. First, first aid
Know first aid. Practice doing first aid on yourself. Understand that you can do things by yourself to save your life. Remember to keep the first aid kit handy!
6. Check in
Don’t miss your check-in with family or neighbours. If someone is supposed to check in, and they don’t, check on them! A check in doesn’t work unless both people do their part.
7. Dress for success
Dress the part. Wear proper work clothes — including safety gear if you are working with chemicals, in dust or welding. Make sure your gloves and other clothing are in good condition and will do their part to keep you safe.
8. No short cuts
Don’t use anything that is worn, torn, frayed or a catch hazard when you are working on machinery. Trust your instincts — if it feels like a bad idea, it probably is.
Many people who have had farm accidents have said, “I knew that wasn’t a good idea, but I did it anyway.” Their reasons range from being in a hurry, thinking a short cut would save time or just not paying attention.
9. Be neighbourly
Be a good neighbour. If your neighbour is working alone, check in on him. Just stop by to see how things are going.
Farmers, especially older farmers, can be independent and stubborn. They may not want to admit they might need help, after all they have done the work they love all their lives.
10. Watch the weather
Farmers rarely need to be told this, but keep an eye on the sky. Deadly weather can sneak up on us.
Being caught unaware by severe weather, with no one there to help you, increases your chances of needing rescue. The old axiom that “the hurrier you go the behinder you get” seems to be true. We see storm clouds coming and we rush to finish the hay or to finish loading the bins. Hazards like lightning can strike from a seemingly blue sky many miles away from their parent storm.
If there is a weather warning respect it, and be alert.
As much as you love farming, your family and friends love you more. Stay safe when you are working alone. †