Farm Safety Tradition is a Loaded Gun


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.


7 thoughts on “Farm Safety Tradition is a Loaded Gun

  1. Very well articulated Shaun! How many more tragedies must we endure before we start doing the right thing? There is no sane reason for agriculture to be as dangerous as it is. If general industry ran like agriculture, we’d still be back in the Industrial Revolution. There is no excuse for this noble industry not to enter the 21st century and drastically reduce the number of deaths and disabling injuries it now curries. Thank you for a thoughtful call to arms!!

  2. Shaun, I agree in part with what you’ve said. However, I feel some of your comments are (perhaps intentionally) over the top and certainly Mr. Powers comment about likening us to the Industrial Revolution (again, I hope an exaggeration) is. I agree wholeheartedly that there is always a need for improvement in all we do, including farm safety, and that most farms practice this. We love our children as much as any non-farm parents do and want their safety and protection as much as any. Speaking only on behalf of my own children, they have been injured or hurt far more often on the playground and within the walls of our home than they have anywhere on the farm. There are certain times when they are not allowed to come with me because they are not old enough to understand the danger associated or importance of safety precautions. I am constantly thinking of their safety when they are with me knowing that this usually slows things down. I am more than willing to sacrifice efficiency to have them with me and ensure their safety.
    Your statement “Our industry cannot continue to leave farm accidents or incidents to God’s will” is what prompted me to respond. There is nothing we can do to change God’s will. What He wills is going to happen. It doesn’t mean we flippantly let things go and excuse them in our negligence. We have a responsibility to care for, protect and nurture our children. Again, I believe and hope this is not what you meant when saying it but that is the way it came across.
    I think we have done a reasonably good job with teaching our kids about farm safety but as I alluded to earlier, there is always room for improvement and we will continue to improve.

  3. Sorry Kevin, but God’s will? Nope! Farm accidents are preventable. Actually, God should not be in this conversation at all. God does not will children or adults to die. I think Shaun may have been trying to point this out in this article. Time for us to make our farm less accident prone and make farming a safe occupation. We need to do this before we get legislated to do so….then you will see slow, not to mention red tape.

  4. Shaun, I have been reading and enjoying your articles for a long time but this time I am just discussed with what you wrote. How can you possibly blanket statement agricultural parents with “flippant” disregard to their children’s lives. You show me one person who dosent care about their children’s lives and safety and I’ll show you a hundred that do. I and every one I know in Ag do everything in their power to protect our children, our selves and our employees on or off the farm. Beyond that you can’t criticise the rest of us and not the parents of the children that died. It is a complete tragedy and my heart goes out to that family and Especially the parents, but your blanket of agricultural flippancy covers them too. This is agriculture and It Is dangerous for all the reasons you listed and more, when you participate you must accept that there is more risk. On our farm and many around us we have, do and will continue to put forth constant and powerful effort to keep everyone safe. Shaun your gun statistic and implication in this article is ridiculous. Don’t get me wrong, lost lives especially ones that can be prevented are tragedies but you can make any statistic look horrifying. Look at how many people died in car accidents in the same amount of time, we arnt going to stop driving because of it, keep things in perspective man. Mr Powers I don’t know what kind of ag you are participating in but if you are anywhere but in a third world country look around you, agriculture IS in the 21st century in so many ways including safety.

  5. Shaun,

    Nice work trying to find the balance between what is wonderful about farming and what risks need to be mitigated. When I was growing up on a farm and ranch, dad never let us drive tractor or work heavy machinery until we had a driver’s license and he had a summer to work with us closely. I’m still farming and ranching today. We can raise children safely on farms, but it means we set firm boundaries and actually train them when they are of the appropriate age (and are mature enough to do the jobs). Find the right chores for your kids, teach them everything they want to know, but keep them out of the dangerous jobs until they’re old enough.

  6. All deaths are tragic
    World is populated by imperfect people – always was always will be – cannot change / fix this

    it is foolish to make laws based on an emotional response to a particular tragic event
    We are people who do not determine our death date

    Deaths / 1000 / industry

    mining / quarry / oil – 1 / 2000
    logging / forestry – 1 / 2300
    trapping – 1 / 2800
    agriculture – 1 / 3600

    so the top 3 have massive / expensive safety programs that are less effective then the farmers

    Why don’t they scrap their failed programs and send people to the farmers to learn about their stellar record?

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