By Shaun Haney
Agriculture has some untouchable topics that we are just not supposed to talk about. One of them is dealing with aging farm workers. On the farm we are taught to respect our elders but in some cases in agriculture we take this to high levels of absurdity. Recently, in northern Alberta a man that was over the age of 80 was hung up in a combine accident and was very fortunate to not be killed. Reading about this terrible accident in the Globe and Mail sparked my thinking process around the topic of elderly farm workers. To put it simply, “should their be limits on the age of farm workers?”
Ask yourself these questions:
Why do we look up to 85 year olds that still drive combine and not wheel chairs?
Would we allow an 85 year old to work on a oil drilling rig or on a logging crew?
Are 85 year old farm workers safer or more dangerous than 15 year old farm workers?
In terms of farm safety why do we seem to care more about the young people than the elderly?
Before I get blasted with hate mail from those of you that love the fact your grandpa drives combine lets consider the absurdity of some of this. Really think about the questions above and answer them honestly. I am not suggesting that elderly people should not be involved in the family farm seeding or harvest but roles can change as our skills and abilities do.
When I look at my own family’s situation I remember my grandfather thinking it was a good idea at the age of 83 to drive a tandem truck full of seed grain to Edmonton. We didn’t let him take the drive that day and like you would expect he felt like he was under appreciated and was being pushed out of the business. I am sure that this a common situation on many farms except many of us don’t talk about it. See I don’t believe that our grandparents need to be pushed out but I do think that it is our responsibility to make sure that their safety and those working around them is secured and maintained.
These are not fun conversations to have because it usually does involve some hurt feelings. I have heard from several people who say, “He would rather be dead than be told he cannot drive combine.” This makes no sense to me at all and is a great example of how we give agriculture a free pass. This doesn’t happen in other industries that involve physical labor and the running of machinery. As I mention above, would it be reasonable to let an 85 year old work on drilling rig because telling him can’t might kill him?
Be honest with yourself and admit that grandpa running combine or other farm machinery at the tender age of 85 is not really a great idea. His reaction times are slower, he doesn’t understand the technology in the cab, and probably would be better suited ensuring grain samples are getting collected and graded by the elevator. Whatever you do in these situations hate will be involved. Either Grandpa is going to hate you for preventing him from driving machinery or you are going to hate yourself for not acting sooner and preventing a terrible accident.
Let the hate mail begin……or just leave your thoughts in the comment box below.