Farm safety took on a new meaning for me when I first met Alberta farmer Cliff Breitkreuz Jr., on his meticulously kept farm near Onoway. That’s going back a few years. Cliff had typed me a letter (on a manual typewriter) and then surface mailed it, inviting me to his farm to talk about politics and meet his family.
To a journalist, such invitations are too rare, and very welcomed. I didn’t know at the time Cliff would go on to be among the first Reform Party politicians to hold office – nor did he, I imagine, even though his political ambitions were clear.
And I didn’t know why he signed his name Cliff “Hook” Breitkreuz Jr., either. But I soon found out, when we met and he told me the story of how a farm incident cost him his forearm. It was replaced with a prosthetic device, with something akin to a hook on the end. Thus, the name.
As time went, we met other farmer amputees who shared their stories, and their reflections on how things might have ended up differently. I was able to tell their stories through the media, and hopefully save others a lot of grief. At the very least, non-farmers reading these stories got the idea that farming can be a dangerous profession.
Flash forward to 2013. Canadian Agricultural Safety Week is around the corner (March 10-16), and unfortunately there are still too many stories to be told that are similar to Cliff’s.That said, they’re important to tell, so farmers can learn from others’ experiences.
Provincially and nationally, farm safety advocates work hard to raise awareness. A new national farm safety strategy is in place. And thankfully, farm deaths have dropped. But despite farm safety’s relevance, communicating about it can be a challenge. Messaging needs to be informative, but not preachy. And the messages themselves must be fresh, but not exploitive.
Still, you can say “be careful” many ways.
One approach is to weave tips and advice in with people stories, such as Cliff’s. Tips such as having a written health and safety plan, the theme for this year’s farm safety week. The Canadian Agricultural Safety Association says 85 per cent of Canadian producers believe safety is a priority on their farm, but less than 10 per cent have a written agricultural safety plan on their farm or ranch.
Stories resonate. And they might very well save lives.
For more on farm safety week, check agsafetyweek.ca.