In spite of recent technological innovations, agriculture continues to depend on the effort of farmworkers in order to function. Aside from the fact that such jobs can be physically exhausting, they are also quite dangerous. Laborers are exposed to heat, chemicals, insects and animals, as well as a number of dangerous vehicles and machines. Given the circumstances, safety training is of paramount importance.
The risks most commonly associated with farm work are:
Exposure to Pesticides and Chemicals.Pesticides and other hazardous chemicals used in farm work are not only dangerous for the employees themselves, but also for their families. Laborers may be exposed to such substances while handling them directly, as well as by working in a field that has been pesticide-treated without wearing the correct equipment. Even if pesticides are not used on your farm, it is still likely that employees will breathe in dangerous substances from a nearby field.
Heat Stress.Farmworkers who are required to work in a hot and humid atmosphere may suffer from heat stress, experience heat strokes, and even lose their lives. This is especially the case when laborers are required to wear heavy equipment or perform physically exhausting tasks. Heat illnesses can be fatal, but these deaths are entirely preventable if employees are aware of the dangers of heat stress and its symptoms.
Poorly Handled Vehicles and Machines.Tractors, ploughs, augers, quad bikes, aerial lifts, forklifts and other vehicles and machines are indispensable tools for farmworkers. However, they can become extremely dangerous if handled poorly. A tractor collision, for example, can cause significant property damage and lead to serious injuries. Both vehicle operation and vehicle storage must be done correctly to avoid incidents.
Accidental Falls.Farmworkers can fall from ladders, windmills, rooftops, silos, aerial lifts, and other platforms. This can lead to severe injuries and even death, which is why it is essential that employees undergo training in fall awareness and use the correct equipment at all times.
Because farmworkers are exposed to so many risks on a daily basis, it is especially important that they are made aware of the dangers associated with their work environments. This can only be obtained through rigorous safety training.
In addition, several measures can be implemented to promote a safer workplace. Personal protective equipment and respirators can be used to avoid exposure to hazardous chemicals, while vehicle use and storage can be guided by strict rules to ensure that no accidents occur. Furthermore, the employer or farm owner can assess the risk of falling where this is necessary and come up with a prevention plan that can then be shared with all workers.
Heat illness tends to be overlooked by most farmworkers, but this disregard can prove to be fatal. Employees must be made aware of the dangers of working in hot weather and encouraged to follow a relief plan whenever they experience symptoms of heat stress. Breaks and appropriate hydration are just a couple of examples that can prevent heat illness.
Safety Courses Recommended for Farm Workers
- Forklift Safety
Forklifts are commonly used to handle agricultural material, but accidents can result in damaged property and personal injury for operators and nearby co-workers. To ensure the safety of all employees on-site, operators should be trained to assess, maintain, and use a forklift correctly.
- Heat Stress Prevention
Although it can prove fatal, heat stress continues to be disregarded as a serious issue in farm work. Both workers and their employers must be made aware of the dangers of working in hot weather so that further incidents may be prevented.
- WHMIS 2015
Regardless of whether or not pesticides are used on your farm, workers can be exposed to hazardous chemicals either through direct contact or through pesticide “drift” from nearby fields. As such, all laborers should undergo safety training in WHMIS.
What You Can Do to Stay Safe
As a farmworker, the first step towards maintaining your safety is to undergo rigorous training and prepare yourself for any dangerous situations you may face while at work. According to Canadian law, your employer is required to provide access to the necessary safety courses for yourself and your colleagues.
If you are a farmhand, pesticide handler, tractor operator, or perform any other task on a farm, please consult our Agriculture and Food industry page to find a comprehensive list of safety courses best suited for your specific line of work.