With this week’s tragic death of three young girls in central Alberta, farm safety is once again at the tip of everyone’s tongue. As usual, the agriculture industry is pouring its heart out for the loss that has been suffered by the family. Such a tragic event spurs much emotion and grief for everyone in the agriculture community. My thoughts below are not a criticism of the parents of these three girls, my concern and criticism lies with the the reaction of the rest of the farming industry to the incident. We need to initiate a moment of change in our agricultural lives starting today.
Agriculture is a great industry, it’s true, but it’s time to really be frank and honest with ourselves. A farm is a workplace. A farm is also a fabulous place to raise a family. Incidents like this week’s tragic news are not isolated. It is not the first farm accident involving children, nor will it be the last.
Let me draw you a comparison in an incredibly sobering way. There has been an abundance of mass shootings in the United States over recent years. According to the Guardian, as of October 2nd, 2015 there were 994 mass shootings in the preceding 1004 days in the United States.
A mass shooting is when four or more people are shot in one incident. These are truly tragic and disparaging statistics.
Many of the 994 mass shootings saw responses from civilians describing the incident as a surprise. They wondered why. Why would this happen? People call into question the problem of guns in the country and how to change the mentality around guns. Gun lobbyists respond by saying that guns are not the problem, people are the problem, and, ultimately, nothing changes.
Here’s where it breaks down: we say that we want change and we claim we’re disgusted, but the lack of action shows the average U.S. citizen is just fine with almost one mass shooting per day in 1,000 days. There is no real want to change.
In agriculture, I see the same complacency with farm safety and our children. For the sake of raising our children on the farm, parents have taken on an acceptable level of risk with their safety.. The farm is a workplace — a workplace with heavy equipment, high voltage, exposed mechanics, livestock and more. In any other workplace, there are rules, regulations and guidelines for each danger. Just because you live on a farm and also have children does not allow you to take the attitude of “these things happen.” This is wrong.It makes me ill to hear parents being so flippant about their children’s lives.
For many children, working or helping on the farm is about spending precious time with your parents, learning about growing crops and raising livestock responsibility. This supervised learning should continue. It’s valuable and incredibly influential for the rest of a child’s life. This is not about eliminating combine rides or kids assisting during farm work. This is about raising the bar on how and what we teach kids about farm safety. The context of our discussion with our children needs to improve. Our industry cannot continue to leave farm accidents or incidents to God’s will.
In regards to the incident this week, from the Canadian Press:
Glen Blahey, an agricultural safety and health expert with the Canadian Agricultural Safety Association, said a load of seed acts like quicksand. It only takes seconds for a person to become trapped and a few minutes to suffocate.
He called for more education about the danger.
“I don’t mean to criticize the parents of those three children that were lost but, at the same time, as caregivers we’re responsible to protect them,” Blahey said.
A ten year old should ride a combine with Mom, but they shouldn’t be operating that machine alone. Young kids shouldn’t be driving cabless tractors alone. At no time is piled grain a place for children to play. At no time is a 12 year old welding alone defensible. The issue is that many of us have convinced ourselves that what we are doing is right when, for the rest of the real world, we are so wrong.
According to Canadian Agricultural Safety Association (CASA), in 2014, in the United States, there were 38 grain entrapment incidents, 1/2 of which resulted in death. Keep in mind that the U.S. agriculture industry is roughly ten times the size of Canada. By this math, Canada might see 1.9 grain entrapment deaths per year based. Yet, in 2015, alone, CASA has recorded 6 fatal incidents and two rescues. As the numbers show — no matter our age — our respect for farm safety needs to rise in a hurry.
If our industry does not start looking inward and begin the process of change, regulation will be forced on us. We have a responsibility to make change. Regulation won’t just be a threat if we can’t clean up our traditions around kids on the farm. As I mentioned earlier, the farm is a playground but it is also a workplace and those boundaries need to get sharp, fast. These incidents should not enable thinking like “these things just happen.”
Our industry is unique, but it also has vast similarities to others. No industry can hide behind the veils of its uniqueness to limit change. The family component to farming is unique versus the oilfield or car manufacturing, but that does not mean we can’t implement farm safety at a higher level than we are using today with employees, family members or ourselves.
Just because you own the land and operate your farm does not mean that “these things happen” is some kind of excuse to abdicate any willingness to change. Change is needed now. Our industry’s tragic path of defending safety ignorance has to stop. Just like the unbelievable mass shooting statistic referenced earlier, complacency around avoidable death is wrong. Can a farm safety incident happen to anyone? Yes, of course, but that doesn’t mean that the industry can’t improve. We need to ask ourselves: “what can I change on my farm, now, to make sure I avoid this type of incident?”
After all of this, please have a discussion about farm safety with your children. Change is a must.