Slow down a bit and think about farm safety

By MPP Toby Barrett

Tractor rollovers. Electrocution.  Grain suffocation.  Heatstroke. Sadly, with every beautiful growing and harvesting season also come the ugly dangers of working on a farm.

Some farm families know all too well that farming is one of the deadliest jobs in the world and stories of on-farm accidents and close calls are not unique. More than half the world’s workplace fatalities each year occur in agriculture.

Back in the day, horses were the most dangerous “machine” on the farm; however farm animals now often pale in comparison to the horsepower and complexity of today’s equipment. Farming has always been physically demanding but counterintuitively farm accidents have grown as the industry has mechanized.

Just before the Easter long weekend, the Ontario Federation of Agriculture reiterated a safety refresher for equipment on the road. The commentary was aimed at both farmers and everyone else sharing highways and byways to be cognizant. Farm machinery – both large and small – on roadways causes us all to slow down; however, keep in mind it is part of doing business and a necessary day-to-day task of production which will in turn grow into food on our tables.

No matter our job, it’s easy to get busy and sometimes that leads us to cut corners. When times are tough or stressful, it’s easy to become distracted by financial matters or adverse working conditions. Stress is a major cause of on-farm accidents.

There are other dangers emerging on the farm, and elsewhere, we don’t necessarily think a lot about—West Nile virus and Lyme disease are two examples. It’s critical we all take preventive measures with regard to these threats as well.

We are blessed to have our local Norfolk Farm Safety Association, currently headed by Waterford area farmer Bill VandeVen. As president, VandeVen and others on the board visit schools, 4-H clubs and farm meetings, to spread the word on farm safety. He has noticed a government shift to treating family farming like any other industry. Government tends to concern itself with workers on the farm and not necessarily the families at home on the farm, particularly children. As we know in this neck of the woods, when the farm is the home; the farm is the workplace.

As a former president of Norfolk Farm Safety Association, I am an advocate for continued information and education. Locally, and across rural Ontario, particularly on farms, the dangers and safety precautions are often communicated and passed along to young people. It’s vital the message is continually repeated, but unfortunately it’s rarely an issue discussed outside agricultural circles.

Growing up on a farm provides so many unique experiences aside from the number of tasks you learn to undertake. None of us tend to forget the things we learned well before we turned 17 or 18. This serves as a reminder of the opportunity to inculcate the very, very young, as well as, the responsibility to ensure everyone is doing age-appropriate tasks. This also applies for farmers getting on in years.

Regrettably, there have been farm-related casualties this spring. Let’s all slow down, take a second look and work together to ensure the farm experience is preserved for generations to come.