Submitted by: Mary Feldskov, Heartland Regional Communication Coordinator
Farming is a dangerous occupation. All too often we’ve read headlines in our rural and agriculture news about injuries or deaths from farm-related activities. While these incidents are tragic, they are often preventable. Across the agriculture sector farm organizations, businesses, and individuals have a collective responsibility to promote safe farm practices and educate farmers, workers, and the public.
Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association local associations, who regularly host farm tours, educational events, twilight meetings, and on-farm research, have a responsibility to make sure these events are safe for event attendees and volunteers.
When a local association plans an event that takes place on a farm or agricultural workplace, or involves farm machinery or livestock, a risk assessment and safety plan is an essential part of the planning process. While larger events drawing hundreds or thousands of people will require a more detailed plan, smaller local events – even gatherings of just a few people – should also be planned with safety in mind.
Here are a few tips to help you come up with a safety plan for your next event.
Before hosting an event, it’s important to assess the risk involved in the activity. If possible, conduct a site visit or talk to the farm owner in advance and document any potential risks to event attendees. Don’t assume that visitors to your event will inherently know the risks of on- farm activities – your event could draw non-farm attendees such as journalists, government officials, or children. For each risk identified, come up with a plan to address it: for example, you may wish to choose a less risky activity; erect barriers such as temporary fences or caution tape; post signage; or make safety announcements. If event attendees will require any PPE (personal protective equipment) such as closed toed shoes or hearing protection, be sure to communicate these needs in advance or have the PPE available at the event.
Keep volunteers safe
It’s important to identify the roles and responsibilities of event volunteers and ensure that they can do their volunteer roles safely. Again, don’t assume that the volunteer will inherently understand the risks associated with the task assigned. Ensure that they have appropriate training, licenses or accreditation when operating farm equipment; that they are given age-appropriate tasks; and that they are provided with necessary PPE such as reflective vests, ear and eye protection, or gloves. Provide each volunteer with a copy of the event’s safety plan or host a safety meeting before the event to make sure all volunteers have the information necessary to be safe.
If you’ve taken the time to create a safety plan for your event, hopefully it will go off without a hitch. However, it’s important to be prepared should an accident or emergency happen. Think about what would happen if there was a fire, medical emergency or accident.
In your safety plan, identify a designated first aider who has appropriate first aid training and access to first aid supplies. For larger events, you may wish to consider hiring a first aid service like St. John Ambulance. Make sure all volunteers and event organizers knows the 911 address of the event location and where to direct emergency personnel – this is especially important if the activity is occurring away from the main farm buildings.
Digital and online events
These types of activities are becoming more and more common. While attendees are watching from the comfort of their homes, it’s still important for the people who are in the video or livestream to practice safe farm practices while filming – not only to keep them safe on the job, but also to reinforce farm safety principles. Don’t forget to make a safety plan when planning a digital or online event or video.
There are a lot of resources to help you make a safety plan for your local Soil & Crop event. Start by reaching out to your regional communications coordinator (RCC), provincial director, or OMAFRA staff liaison. You can also consult farm safety groups like the Canadian Agriculture Safety Association (CASA) for more tips, tools, and resources.