Bumper crop of danger

Wednesday, 29 August 2012 20:00 Gauthier, Gerald

Garrett Simmons
[email protected]
Every summer, it’s always the same for southern Alberta agricultural producers.
As the days get shorter and the crops begin to ripen, harvest anxiety kicks in. With only so many perfect harvest days on the calendar, the pressure is on to maximize those days to the fullest potential. Unfortunately, that often leads to problems.
Laura Nelson, executive director of the Alberta Farm Safety Centre in Raymond, said reports of mishaps are more frequent come harvest time, and still follow a familiar pattern.
“We’re still dealing with a lot of machine entanglements, rollover and runovers,” she said, and added July-August in particular see a jump in the latter two occurrences
Machinery, of course, can be temperamental and come the busy season, those breakdowns can cause significant stress for producers.
“In a perfect world, you’d buy a new piece of equipment and it would never plug or break,” said Nelson, who added when breakdowns do occur, a slight slip up, such as trying to make a quick adjustment while the machinery is still running, can lead to a life-altering injury.
Advances in equipment technology have helped, as Nelson highlighted rollover-protection structures in tractors as an example, but only help if farmers use another important safety feature, one which is often neglected – seatbelts.
“If you catch a tire in the ditch or a pivot track, you want to be safe in that passenger area,” said Nelson, who added even though slower speeds are involved in farm work, the 15,000-pound weight of an average tractor plays a huge factor. “If it rolls over on you, it just doesn’t matter.”
Older tractors can be retrofitted with rollover-protection structures as well, for an added safety feature.
Safety features can make a difference but often, time is a huge factor, especially as the calendar flips from August to September. The dog days of summer give way to long days in the field, and Nelson added farmers need to ensure they get a proper rest.
“No one can work 18-20-hour days day after day and be as sharp on the 15th and 20th day,” she said, and mentioned even short breaks throughout the day can make a big difference. “After a few hours, you need a break, even if it’s just for a few minutes.”
Nelson added growers are sitting on record crops, and the recent hail storm Cardston experienced proves a crop is never safe, until it’s tucked away in the bins.
But safety can’t be lost in the go-go nature of harvest, according to Nelson, who pointed to an Alberta Centre for Injury Control and Research report, called Agricultural-Related Injuries in Alberta, which stated an average of 18 deaths a year took place between 1990-2009. Unlike other injuries, children and the elderly factor into those numbers, due to the unique nature of farm work.
With that, Nelson added it’s important for parents to educate their children, recognize their limitations and follow some simple guidelines. She suggested any farm worker out on the job should communicate where they are going, when they are expected to be back and be provided with a communication device, should any problems arise.
“It’s just a matter of thinking ahead and doing some preparation,” said Nelson, who added it’s also important for workers to know the legal land location, and/or identification number of the land they’re working on.
Nelson mentioned the centre in Raymond focuses on educating youngsters as early as students in kindergarten in rural and colony schools, to build a consistent farm-safety message over the years.
“Before you know it, these kids will be the farm operators,” she said, and added the goal is to create a proactive attitude towards safety, which will ideally positively impact the on-farm decisions they will one day make on the farm.