BY IAN DOIG • PHOTO BY ROB MCMORRIS
An industry-led organization formed in 2018, AgSafe Alberta works with farmers and ranchers to improve the safety of their operations. GrainsWest spoke with Jody Wacowich, the organization’s executive director, about the launch of FARMERS CARE, a farm safety program that will eventually feature four bite-sized levels.
GrainsWest: What type of farm safety program is FARMERS CARE?
Jody Wacowich: It is a free introduction to farm safety that is very practical and achievable and can be done in a reasonable amount of time. It’s available online and doesn’t require a lot of support from AgSafe. We developed the FARMERS CARE acronym, and taking those letters, in level one, we identify where those hazards are on the farm—secure loads, animal handling, electrocution and so on. What can we do to fix them and commit to a timeline to do that? And hopefully, pick some of those low-hanging fruit in terms of safety on the farm and reducing some of the risks.
GW: How much time is required?
JW: It’s an average of two hours to get through level one. It depends on how much time you take to identify that hazard you’re going to work on and what you’re going to do to control it. Some of those questions can be answered fairly quickly and others might take a little longer.
GW: Why is the program needed?
JW: There is legislation in place in Alberta that requires farms with employees, primarily, to have safety programs in place. What we recognized was that it felt very overwhelming to jump into a full fledge safety program. Considering all the other things farmers have on the go, such as quality assurance, food safety and animal care and other programs that they’re already documenting. We wanted to make this practical and easy to start the basic farm safety pieces.
Level one identifies hazards and what we can do to control them. In level two, we will talk about training and communication on the farm. This program is also very applicable to family farms. We do see injuries and fatalities on family farms, so it can help improve their safety as well.
GW: What can farmers and ranchers expect when they participate in the program?
JW: For example, “F” is for “fall from heights.” Falls are the biggest injury the Workers Compensation Board finds on farms. Where on your farm, can you fall from a height? And what can we do to prevent that from happening? Is it a ladder to the hayloft or up a grain bin? You read some information on falls, including a story about somebody who has had a fall on the farm and what could have been done to prevent it. That goes to our theme of what’s one thing you can change? The program asks you to identify that one thing on your farm that you can change today.
GW: Would you say these are practical, easy measures participants can take now?
JW: Exactly. At the end, you get a report, and we’ll make suggestions to help you with safety measures. You also get a level one completion certificate. We can also provide a farm sign so you can show that you are committed to safety on your farm.
GW: Ideally, how should this program contribute to the farm safety picture on a farm or ranch?
JW: No one wants to see a fatality or serious injury. We need to get everybody thinking farm safety is part of farm risk management. We spend time planning for price risk management or weather risk management. And really, farm safety is another piece in that risk management plan.
When someone gets hurt, there is recuperation time. There can be additional costs associated with farm accidents such as damage to equipment. And if Occupational Health and Safety has to visit the farm, especially in a busy season, that can certainly slow us down or affect what we’re able to do on the farm during that time.
GW: Can participants sign up for additional safety programming?
They can work through level one, and we’re now developing level two. We will also create a third and fourth level for FARMERS CARE. Right now, there is additional programming in our learning platform on personal protective equipment. And most people need to have WHMIS training when they’re working. These things are also part of what we offer. If you really want to take your program to that next step, we offer our AgSafe certification, and that’s starting to build out the full safety program and what you’re required to have in place if you have employees on the farm.
To learn more and to sign up for FARMERS CARE, visit agsafe.ab.ca.