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Smart Farming Puts Safety First

Workplace Safety

Farming is a traditional way of life for many Canadians. Most farms in this country are family operations. When the home doubles as an industrial worksite, safety must always come first.

Basic Precautions

Over half of all serious farming-related injuries happen when the victim is working alone. A further 25 percent occur in the presence of a family member. Finding the victim of a catastrophe is a traumatic experience; especially if it is a family member, close friend or neighbor. Yet the seconds following the discovery can make the difference between life and death.

Everyone on the farm should take a first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) course. Training helps you overcome the shock of the situation, which can hinder crucial thinking and decision-making. As well, place first aid kits in strategic locations.

Whether you go for help or start rendering aid depends on the type of incident, the severity of the injury, and your ability to give first aid and/or CPR. Be sure to size up the situation so you or other rescuers are not put at risk.

Invest in a two-way radio or cellular phone to help those doing work in distant fields stay in touch with family members. At the very least, tell family members where you are and how long you expect to be at a particular location.

Tractors and Machinery

The tractor is the number one killer on the farm. Tractor rollovers and runovers account for almost half of all farm fatalities; other machinery is responsible for a further one-quarter. For every death, there are numerous severe injuries.

Tractor and machinery injuries can be prevented by keeping safety in mind at all times. The Canadian Agriculture Injury Surveillance Program offers these tips:

  • Equip the tractor with a Rollover Protective Structure (ROPS) and a seatbelt — and use them.
  • Set the wheels at the widest spacing possible for the job.
  • Steer clear of ditches, streams, and steep hills.
  • Match speed to conditions and loads. Don’t let your tractor bounce.
  • Lock brake pedals together before high speed travel. Slow down before turning.
  • Keep a front-end loader bucket as low as possible during transport.
  • Use ballast when required.
  • Hitch a load only to the tractor drawbar — no higher.
  • Use weights to increase tractor stability.
  • Start forward motion slowly and change speed gradually.
  • Avoid backing downhill if possible.
  • Drive around ditches, not across them.
  • Back the tractor out when stuck in mud. If this doesn’t work, tow the machine out with another tractor.
  • Enforce the ‘No Extra Riders’ rule on tractors or towed equipment.
  • Before starting the machinery, make sure no one is behind, under or in front of the tractor.
  • Keep tractors strictly off-limits to young children.
  • Properly train and supervise new operators before allowing them to drive.

Silo Gases

Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is the deadly silo gas that forms as a result of chemical reactions which start when chopped plant material is placed in a silo. NO2 is heavier than air. When it builds up, it may flow down a silo chute to settle into feed rooms and connected stables, becoming a threat to man and beast.

The risk is greatest during the first three weeks after silo filling. Deaths and serious lung injuries are most likely to occur in conventional, top-loading silos. Leveling, sealing and unloader set-up operations in their confined headspace pose a very serious risk during the peak danger period.

Warning signs that silo gas is present include:
• a bleach-like odor;
• a yellowish-brown haze at the silage surface or near the feed room floor; and/or
• dead flies, cats or rodents on the feed room floor, or dead birds in the silo.

If you see any of these signs, immediately clear the area of people and livestock, and start the forage blower to force toxic fumes out of the silo.

Silo gas can cause almost instantaneous death. The victim may not even have time to recognize respiratory symptoms such as the burning sensation in the nose, throat and chest.

The following advice on how to deal with silo gas comes from the Farm Safety Association:

  • Post a ‘Silo Gas’ warning sign in a location near the silo. Declare silo areas ‘off limits’ to children and visitors during the three-week period after filling.
  • Contact your local fire department or other emergency service to determine if pressure-demand remote breathing equipment is available to deal with an emergency.
  • Provide feed room ventilation to remove silo gas that may ‘spill’ down the chute or be blown out by the unloader. If such ventilation is not available, keep the feed room door tightly sealed to prevent contamination of the stable.
  • Adjust the distributor to level silage during filling operations. Don’t enter the silo to level material by hand. If it is necessary to go into a silo at the completion of filling, do so as soon as the last load is off. Don’t wait until the next day! Leave the blower running while you are inside the silo.

Silo entry should never be attempted without wearing a life-line that is in the hands of outside help. Always ventilate the silo headspace thoroughly prior to entry.

Anyone who experiences the slightest throat irritation while in the vicinity of a recently-filled silo should vacate the area and get into the fresh air as quickly as possible.

If someone collapses while working inside a silo, start ventilating with the forage blower immediately. A fresh air supply is crucial to both victim and rescuers.

Disaster Preparedness

Some emergencies are preventable. Others, such as a tornado or ice storm, are outside of the farmer’s control. Think of what could happen if a disaster strikes, and plan ahead. Start with this Canada Safety Council checklist:

Survival Kit
Your emergency survival kit should keep your family self-sufficient for a minimum of three days. Include a battery-powered radio with extra batteries, flashlights, a supply of canned and dried food, water, a can opener, a first-aid kit, one sleeping bag or two blankets per person, and water purification tablets or chlorine bleach.

Alternative Methods
Determine ways to access feed stored in granaries or silos (e.g. a tractor PTO). Identify hay and silage delivery methods. Identify reliable sources of potable water (e.g. fire department, generator to run your water pump, farm ponds).

Contact Information
Keep a list of emergency phone numbers near all telephones, along with a clear set of directions to the farm (e.g. kilometres, landmarks). When people are highly excited or distraught, they may not remember this important information unless it is written down.

Each family member should know how to turn off the main electrical breaker, main water valve and gas. Don’t shut off gas unless there is a leak or a fire. Gas should only be turned on again by a qualified technician.

Hire a qualified electrician to install a double-pole, double-throw transfer switch at the place your generator will be connected to your house or other buildings. This switch will prevent electricity entering the power grid from the generator, and threatening the safety of utility workers. Keep generators outdoors.

Through National Farm Safety Week (held March 14 to 20, 2006), the Canada Safety Council has highlighted the importance of diligence and safety on the farm for 35 years.

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