Important safety reminders for young farm workers

Among the thousands of Canadians farmers who supply fresh vegetables and dairy products to the country, much of it wouldn't be possible without the assistance of farmhands. However, due to the machinery and equipment used, many injuries take place that prevent young workers from providing that help. In fact, according to Canadian Agricultural Injury Reporting, 13 children die every year as a result of agricultural incidents in the country.

To avoid these tragic and unnecessary accidents, the Canadian Agricultural Safety Association recently released some new voluntary guidelines that farmers may want to consider adopting.

June launches the official start to the summer season, the time of year in which growers begin to witness some of the "fruits" of their labors, as well as one where young workers will be on location to offer their much-needed help. For those who are new to the farm, it's a good idea to establish a basic orientation program for young workers that introduces them to what's expected of them and how to properly handle fertilizers and machinery that can cause injury.

"When assigning general or specific tasks to youth, it is important to factor in the hazard level involved," said Glen Blahey, health and safety specialist at CASA. "For instance, job assignments for 14 and 15-year-old youth should occur in non-hazardous work environments only. The range of options can expand for 16- and 17-year-old youth, but only if they have taken either vocational or other work-based learning programs and have the written consent of their parents."

He added that something else farm owners need to appropriately monitor is how long their young workers are laboring out in the fields. Depending on their age, young workers tend to need more frequent rest periods than those who are older than them. They should also have work schedules that aren't as rigorous.

"This is because youth under the age of 18 are in a rapid state of growth and development and need more time for sleep and rest," said Blahey.

Always evaluate young farmhands
By the age of 18, young workers should be able to work a more regular shift. However, it's important to remember that it's not the age, in and of itself, that makes them all of a sudden more capable. Blahey stressed that all prospective employees should be independently evaluated in order to assess their understanding of farming basics so that productivity and safety are ensured.

Every March, CASA holds Agricultural Safety Week, which this year ran from March 9 to 15. The theme was "Let's Talk About It!" which aimed to encourage farmers to discuss the importance of being protected from harm on the farm through basic prevention tips.

Safety awareness has been encouraged this year through several training projects that have been funded by CASA. Approximately $100,000 was devoted to 10 projects across the country to organizations like the Waterton Biosphere Reserve Association and Manitoba Farmers with Disabilities.