Ask an Expert: AgSafe Alberta Talks Farm Safety

Occupational health and safety has been growing and evolving across many sectors over the past few years. Organizationals in industries like construction, trucking and natural resources have steadily added to safety checklists with a drive for safety culture, to positive results.

Sometimes those changes are driven in part by legislation. When Alberta introduced the Bill 6 Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers’ Act legislation, members of that sector chose to work together to address those legislative changes in a positive way.

They came together as AgCoalition in order to advocate for themselves and determine their way forward. Through that coalition, AgSafe Alberta Society was formed in 2018, with the goal of providing farms and ranches resources based on the requirements of the Alberta Occupational Health and Safety Act, Regulation and Code, to address hazards specific to farms and ranches.

Jody Wacowich is the executive director of AgSafe Alberta. We asked her about building a safety culture in an agriculture setting, and where farmers and ranchers can turn for resources along the way.

1. What services and resources does AgSafe Alberta provide that can help with managing safety?

We offer QuickStart guides for getting started, online courses in hazard assessment and orientation; workshops to help farms and ranches understand legislation; and complete hazard assessments and one-on-one advisor visits to help them get started on their plans. We support producers in the event of a major incident, help farms and ranches understand OHS requirements, and assist with incident investigations.

2. What is the difference between meeting safety standards, and creating a safety culture in an agricultural setting?

A farm can complete the paperwork and have a plan in place to ensure they are meeting the legislation, but unless they work to develop the safety culture and get the commitment of everyone working on the farm, the plan won’t prevent injuries or incidents. They need to show their employees that they are committed to their safety and are asking for them to be committed to their own safety as well.

3. What are the biggest challenges farmers and ranchers face when trying to establish a safety culture?

Encouraging your farm or ranch team to commit to making safety a part of their day and getting them to come to you with concerns or ideas to make your farm or ranch a safer place to work. We also know that people are being safe on their farms and ranches, we just need to get in the mindset of documenting and tracking our discussions about farm safety and training on equipment.

Sometimes we hear comments like “we have always done it this way,” or “that takes too long” or “it’s just common sense” – but it is not common sense until everyone on the farm has the same information about how to do a task. With that being said, it also takes an adult hearing something seven times before it is committed to memory. So, we need to teach, and probably reteach and remind a few times before it sticks, and people follow the new procedures.

4. In the past few years, changes have been made to safety legislation that affects farmers and ranchers – what were the biggest questions or challenges farmers and ranchers had following those changes?

One of the biggest questions has been “What does it mean to me and what do I have to do?” They are not familiar with the safety language in the code and need some assistance to gain confidence in working with it. We have been holding workshops to help farms and ranches get started on a hazard assessment and take it home to work on, and they can call and ask us questions. We are there to support them.

We’re hearing farm owners say that it has improved their efficiency and increased communications between them and their staff. We have more interest in visits from advisors and we now have a waiting list for those visits.

5. We’re seeing a new generation of farmers emerge, including small, niche farms. Is the new generation farmer responding to changes in farming requirements differently than traditional farms, or are they facing the same hurdles?

It depends on the farm. Many are small enough that they do not have employees, so the legislation does not apply to them. It will be important for them to remember that if they do start to hire employees, even if only during busy seasons, they will need to develop a safety program for their farm as well. We are also working to develop a tool for family farms and ranches that will offer a smaller-scale safety program. We think protecting families is important too.

Thanks for your insight Jody! Learn more about AgSafe Aberta at AgSafeAB.ca.

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