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WorkSafeBC launches safety initiative for tractors and farm equipment

Education initiative coincides with Canadian Agricultural Safety Week


(Canadian OH&S News) — WorkSafeBC is taking steps to address occupational injuries and fatalities related to farm equipment. The organization has launched the WorkSafeBC Tractor and Equipment Safety Initiative, which provides free safety information to farm workers in British Columbia.

The launch of the new initiative on March 16 coincided with Canadian Agricultural Safety Week. The project involves distributing public safety resources from equipment dealers and repairers directly to employers, as well as at agricultural conferences and through agricultural-commodity associations. In addition, WorkSafeBC has a new tractor and equipment safety web page that includes downloadable PDF files, one with frequently asked questions about tractor safety and another with a machine safety checklist, in four languages.

WorkSafeBC has also produced a short video, Tractor Rollovers, which demonstrates the lifesaving values of wearing seatbelts and using rollover protective structures (ROPS) when operating tractors.

“Tractor and farm-related-equipment incidents are the leading cause of fatalities on BC farms and ranches,” said Joy Piehl, WorkSafeBC’s manager of industry and labour services. “Since 2009, there have been 145 equipment and machinery-related serious injuries on BC farms and ranches – 11 of them fatal.”

Piehl added that farm injuries and deaths can happen to anyone at any time, regardless of the victim’s age or level of experience. “The key to safety is to take preventive steps to identify and control the hazards associated with the operation of the farm-related machinery.”

Among the questions answered in the two-page downloadable FAQ document: “When it comes to tractors, what hazards should I be aware of?” and “Are there situations when a tractor can be used without ROPS?” WorkSafeBC’s safety checklist includes both employers’ and workers’ responsibilities.

WorkSafeBC has been putting a face on the potential dangers of tractors and farm equipment by promoting the story of Devon Smith, a young woman who was hospitalized after an accident with a drilling device on her family’s farm in Enderby. Smith was helping her father repair a fence when her jacket became entangled in the tractor’s power takeoff (PTO); she was then thrown around and crushed against the augur and the PTO. Fortunately, an ambulance was in the area, and Smith was rushed to the hospital immediately.

“I don’t remember the accident itself; I became unconscious rather quickly,” Smith told COHSN. “I had about 13 broken or fractured bones in my body, a separated right lung and a laceration in my neck that caused my carotid artery to collapse, causing a stroke on the left side of my body.”

Smith spent three weeks, including her 21st birthday, in the intensive-care unit. Today, she attends regular follow-up appointments with doctors and undergoes physiotherapy. “The doctors are all amazed with how well I’ve been able to come through this,” she said. “I have been very lucky.”

She advises fellow farm workers to treat every use of farm machinery as if it’s the first time. “When you’re using it for the first time, you’re more aware of what you are doing and you’re not taking shortcuts,” she noted. “Be very aware of what you’re doing and keep in mind how easily something can go wrong if you’re not paying attention.

“And you should always have your hair tied back and be wearing properly fitting clothing. All those little things can really save your life.”

As a victim, Smith commended WorkSafeBC’s new initiative, saying that tractor and equipment safety “is a very crucial subject to promote and very important to our communities.”

“People continue to be seriously injured or killed by tractors and farm-related equipment every year,” said Piehl. “Devon Smith’s experience is just one tragic example.”

WorkSafeBC’s FAQ list about working safely with tractors is available online at http://www2.worksafebc.com/pdfs/agriculture/tractors_faq.pdf, and its machine safety checklist is at http://www2.worksafebc.com/pdfs/agriculture/equipment_machinery_safety_checklist.pdf.