A tractor sits in the ditch along Alma St. in Amherstburg, April 20, 2017. (Photo courtesy the Amherstburg Police Service)

Farm safety week kicks off with a focus on being proactive

While farm fatalities have been steadily declining since 2011, tragedies still happen in the fields each year and they are entirely preventable.

National Farm Safety Awareness Week starts Thursday and runs until March 21. The theme this year is taking proactive approaches to safety as opposed to reactive, according to Lewis Smith, the manager of national projects with the Canada Safety Council. He added now is the time for farmers to start thinking about safety as they prepare to start their season in the spring.

Lewis said the agriculture industry is vital to the Canadian economy, especially in Chatham-Kent which he added produces 20 per cent of all vegetables grown in the country. He said protecting groups responsible for keeping the rest of the country fed should be a top priority.

“We do see the fatalities and injuries are going down year-over-year and that’s great news,” Lewis said. “There are still fatalities and injuries happening and as far as we’re concerned even one is too many.”

Lewis said total farm-related fatalities in 2010 were 91 which dropped to 75 in 2011 and then to 60 in 2012. He added 2012 was the last full year they collected data on fatalities. The manager added rollovers, runovers and getting pinned by heavy machinery are the leading causes of death on farms.

Lewis added most fatalities are the result of a lack of attention or taking shortcuts.

“Farming can be a pretty stressful industry and sometimes shortcuts are taken out of a feeling of necessity because there is just not enough time to get everything done,” Lewis said. “So people will just ride their machine up a steep hill instead of taking the long way around and if it works out for them 99 times out of 100 they will see it as a positive thing. The problem is that 100th time when it doesn’t work out you won’t get to try 101.”

The manager suggested anyone operating any machinery read through the manual thoroughly before doing so. He added visually inspecting machines before using them is also important to make sure they don’t need maintenance.

According to Lewis, the majority of people injured or killed on farms are male which he said was odd because most farms are run by families. He added migrant workers don’t make up a higher percentage of the statistics either, it can happen to anyone.

Ultimately, Lewis said safety isn’t simply a switch one can turn on and off.

“The most important part is not reacting to what’s happening, it’s acting before something happens to ensure there are no fatalities and are no injury concerns,” Lewis said.