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What causes a farm accident?

Farming isn’t easy work. Farming isn’t for the faint of heart, the easily defeated or the undetermined. A successful farmer is an optimist and a realist at the same time. A farmer knows his land, his equipment, his livestock and his operation inside out. This determination and wisdom often translates into prosperous farms and thriving farming communities. A part of a successful farming operation is understanding what causes farm accidents and how to prevent them.

Accidents often seem to “just happen.” Things seem to be going just fine one minute and then catastrophe strikes. An entanglement, a rollover, a crush or an engulfment happens. What contributes to a farm accident (incident)? More importantly what can be done to prevent the incident, or at the very minimum, what can be done to reduce the severity?

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There can be as many as 20 factors that contribute to a serious incident. Taking shortcuts, over-confidence, lack of training, poor housekeeping, distractions, physical conditions and ignoring safe-work procedures are all examples of factors that contribute to farm injuries and fatalities. Sometimes these factors can combine to create a particularly dangerous situation. For example, a tired, hungry farmer hooks up a power-take-off that’s missing the guard — the danger factor of an unguarded PTO is compounded by the farmer’s physical state.

When we are exposed to a hazard, day after day, we often overlook the risk associated with that hazard. We become numb to the potential danger. We say things to ourselves like “Nobody has been hurt yet,” or “I know it is a problem, so I’ll be okay.” Being complacent about the hazards on the farm is also a major contributing factor to farm incidents.

None of this is new information. In fact, some people might even call it common sense. “Of course I know that’s dangerous!” they might say. But incidents keep happening. According to new Canadian Agricultural Injury Reporting data, from 2002–12 there was an average of 85 ag-related deaths per year. It cannot be overstated that farming is a hazardous occupation and there are ways to prevent these deaths.

When an incident or even a close-call happens, it’s easy to see in hindsight the details and factors that contributed to it. Sometimes, when there’s been a fatality or injury on the farm we ask “What were they thinking?” or “How did they not see that coming?” Of course it’s easy to say that in retrospect. We have the benefit of being able to see the whole picture. However, there is hope.

The smallest of actions or tiny changes can make a difference when it comes to preventing an injury. A ten minute nap, a walk around the tractor checking for hazards, replacing engineering devices like guards, accessing proper training, talking about farm safety, asking questions, taking your time, and using the proper equipment for the job are all things that can be done to prevent an incident. There isn’t a one-solution-fits-all approach to farm safety. Farming is dynamic and ever-shifting — so are the hazards and therefore so are the safety approaches.

The key to prevention is to see the factors that contribute to an incident and address them before an injury or fatality occur. Using a critical eye, developing a farm safety plan and being proactive are all really great ways to making your farm a safe farm. Sometimes it’s not easy to ask yourself the hard questions about the safety on your farm. Sometimes improving safety on your farm isn’t cheap or even very fun, but it’s integral to your farm operation. A solid farm safety plan that controls the hazards can prevent farm incidents from occurring or at the very least can reduce the impact.

For more information about the Canadian Agricultural Safety Association and farm safety, please visit casa-acsa.ca.

About the author

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As a national, non-profit organization, the Canadian Agricultural Safety Association (CASA) promotes farm safety in the agricultural sector.

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