Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario Commentary
by Suzanne Armstrong, CFFO Director of Research
Agricultural Safety Week, from March 12-18, aims to raise awareness of on-farm risks, and to remind farmers of the many resources available to help them improve farm safety.
While safety issues are important all year round, Agricultural Safety Week encourages farm families to work together to keep each other safe.
The Canadian Agricultural Safety Association (CASA) has selected a three-year focus on family farm safety. Last year’s materials focused on safety for children on farms.
This year the focus is on “Appealing to Adults.”
Resources include a series of webinars on creating a farm safety plan, a pamphlet on dealing with farm related stress, tool box talks on specific farm tasks, and many others.
Experience and routine can make it easy to become complacent about safety. But we only need to look to recent events to be reminded that even experienced farmers and farm workers in familiar environments can have farm accidents.
The death of Carl Gregg, whose body was pulled from a manure storage tank on the dairy farm where he had worked for 16 years, is a tragic loss.
CASA collects data on fatal farm accidents across Canada. Their most recent report indicates the good news that, overall, farm related fatalities are decreasing.
However, the report also says that “agriculture ranks as the fourth most hazardous industry in Canada with respect to rates of fatal injury. In terms of absolute numbers of fatalities, there is no more dangerous occupation.” The highest risk period for incidents is in the summer months, and most fatal accidents are farm equipment related. However, Canadian farmers are not only at risk from physical injury. Mental health is also a risk.
A study from the University of Guelph found that producers in Canada suffer from high levels of stress, anxiety, depression, as well as emotional exhaustion and cynicism.
The study also found that farmers in Canada suffered from these more than farmers in other countries, and more than the general population in Canada.
Researcher Dr. Andria Jones-Bitton also notes that the problem is exacerbated by the fact that farmers often don’t feel comfortable seeking help for mental health issues.
In order to combat this problem, and provide stronger support services for farmers, she is initiating a project focused on mental health literacy.
As described in the university news release, “the program would train people to recognize and respond to mental distress, and reduce stigma around mental health issues in Ontario’s agricultural sector.”
Ag Safety Week is a reminder to review farm safety on your own farm, and perhaps to seek help for ongoing farm-related stressors. Farming is an important calling and provides a lifestyle well-suited to raising a family.
Still, extra care needs to be taken in a farming environment to protect all family members. We wish everyone a safe and healthy farming season ahead.