What Ontario Farmers Should Know About Farm Safety

Farm Safety Essentials for Ontario Farmers 

Farming is a big industry in Canada; and of course, Ontario is no exception. Ontario is often celebrated for the varied climates and fertile land that allow farms of all types to produce high-quality goods. Danger might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you see a peaceful, rural orchard or cows munching grass in a pasture. Still, as any experienced farmer knows, there are plenty of potential hazards on every farm that could cause injury to workers or damage to the farming operation itself.  

Awareness of the possibility of danger is only one part of farm safety for Ontario's farm owners, farm families and workers. It's critical to understand the proper safety practices including specific hazards, have a farm safety plan in place, follow through on it to avoid the risk of injury or property damage, and ensure that your farm and everyone on it are safe and sound.  

6 Major Risks to Farm Safety 

The first step toward farm safety and peace of mind is identifying the biggest risk sources for injury and damage. Depending on the type of farm you operate, some of these risks may not apply to your particular operation—if you don't have any livestock, for example, there's no need to worry about handling large animals—but in all likelihood, the majority of them do apply in some way. By correctly and thoroughly assessing risk factors, you have a roadmap for designing your farm safety plan.  

1. Tractors and Heavy Equipment 

It will likely come as no surprise when we tell you that tractors and other mobile, self-propelled farm equipment are the type of farm machinery most likely to be involved in an accident on a farm. However, other types of heavy equipment, such as balers, shredders, harvesters, and more, can also pose a significant threat to farm safety in the form of crushing, pinning, and cutting accidents.  

Proper training on how to use machinery safely and correctly is absolutely critical for farm safety. Of course, farm employers are required by the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) to provide workers with information, instruction, and supervision about the safe use of farm equipment. A comprehensive farm safety plan includes ensuring workers are not only familiar with best practices and recommended procedures but also that they're being followed to the letter. 

Lockout procedures are also essential for tractors, heavy equipment, and other farm vehicles & machinery that use an energy source such as fuel or electricity. The equipment must be fully shut down, isolated from its energy source and locked out so only trained and authorized workers can start it up again.  

2. Fire 

Fire is a massive threat to any property and its inhabitants, but farms can be particularly vulnerable to devastating fires because they contain so much combustible material and offer so many opportunities for fire to spread, from dry crops and pastures to large wooden structures and large stores of fuel. Even something as simple as dry potting soil can be combustible under the right circumstances.  

The good news is that most fires are avoidable with care, attention, and the right precautions for farm fires. Here are some critical farm fire safety tips that should be followed and enforced no matter the type of farm operation you run:  

  • Maintain Electrical Systems and Equipment: Electrical equipment should always be well-maintained and stored safely when it's not in use. It should also be inspected regularly, and any potential signs of trouble such as loose wiring should be corrected before it is used again. It should be kept free of dust and debris. Investing in an annual inspection of your electrical systems by a qualified electrician is also important.  
  • Store Fuel Safely: Fuel such as gasoline, along with other combustibles, should be stored away from livestock in a different building. Any accidental spills or leaks should be cleaned up and neutralized immediately.  
  • Use Fuel and Other Combustibles Outdoors: When refuelling equipment such as tractors or using other types of highly combustible materials, it's best to do so outdoors and well away from structures such as barns and sheds. If you do need to use materials that produce flammable vapours or gases indoors, make sure they're in a well-ventilated area to let the vapours dissipate quickly.  
  • Use Safe Heating Systems for Livestock Outbuildings: If you have livestock in unheated buildings during an Ontario winter, it may be necessary to use heaters. It's critically important to ensure livestock cannot reach the heaters and that they are kept away from flammable materials such as feed. Avoid using heated watering bowls, heat lamps and similar devices in favour of a radiant heat system such as a boiler.  
  • Avoid Clutter: Remove brush, trash, and other random flammable items from barn yards and outbuildings. Get rid of items that are no longer needed or used, and keep everything you do need to keep clean and stored properly. Make sure inventory and stock is secured away from combustible materials. 
  • Keep Fire Extinguishers Nearby: A farm fire safety plan should ensure that fire extinguishers are readily accessible and easy to find in every building. They need to be inspected and maintained regularly, and everyone working on the farm should be aware of how to use them.

3. Handling Large Animals 

Farm animals such as cows, hogs, sheep, horses, goats, and more may seem fairly docile, but they are still animals with minds of their own and can behave unpredictably at times. Anyone working with large animals is at risk of injury or even death from being knocked down, trampled, bitten, kicked, or crushed. It's also important to keep in mind that animals can be infected with serious transmittable diseases.  

Much like heavy equipment, those who are working with animals need comprehensive training, instruction and supervision about the best practices to remain safe and ensure the animals are also protected from harm. That involves using personal protective equipment (PPE) when appropriate, being aware of potential transmissible diseases, taking steps to avoid the transmission of disease, and maneuvering safely in enclosed spaces to avoid being pinned between a large animal and a hard surface such as a wall or fence.  

There is also some risk that passersby will attempt to trespass into an area such as a pasture and interact with large farm animals, which could cause them injury and create a liability concern for the farm owner. It's not always totally possible to prevent this from happening, but measures such as locked gates, no trespassing signs, and dangerous animal warning signs can help. 

4. Slips and Falls 

On a typical farm, there may occasionally or often be a need to work at a height. That could be on a ladder, on a higher level of a building such as a hay loft in a barn, or perched on tall equipment if work does need to be done at a height, fall protection systems such as harnesses, railings or restraints. Floor surfaces on higher levels should be sturdy and capable of holding all the weight that may be put on them, and any openings, such as trap doors, should have guard rails, covers or both.  

However, slip-and-fall injuries can also occur at ground level on an even surface from something as simple as tripping over an item that was left sitting out in the middle of a high-traffic area. Any loose items should be safely stowed away or at least placed to the side where they can't be tripped over, and spills of slippery substances should be cleaned up immediately to remove the potential for a slip-and-fall incident.  

5. Confined and/or Hazardous Spaces 

An enclosed space that is not designed for human habitation can be highly hazardous due to a lack of adequate oxygen, very poor air quality due to dust, gases or vapours, or because of the presence of highly combustible materials. Silos, cisterns, grain stores, manure pits and holding tanks are some examples of hazardous spaces where a human could easily be deprived of oxygen and unable to escape on their own—and most farmers have heard of tragic accidents occurring in these types of environments.  

Education, training, and supervision are the primary farm safety measures against injury or death in a confined and/or hazardous space. If a worker has to enter a confined, potentially hazardous space, there should be a safety plan in place before they do so. Supervisors should ensure they are suited to personal protective equipment and follow the written plans and procedures for farm safety. No one should enter an enclosed space that is being filled or unloaded with grain due to the risk of becoming trapped and suffocating, and spaces in which manure is being agitated should be avoided until the agitation has stopped and the space has been completely ventilated.  

6. Fatigue 

Farm work often involves strenuous physical labour, and that labour often takes place outdoors in the heat. It's easy to become fatigued under those circumstances, and that can lead to serious or even fatal injury or illness—both from the fatigue itself and from errors and accidents caused by physical fatigue or overheating. A robust farm safety plan should include regular breaks for food and rest during periods of intense physical labour and easy access to drinking water.  

Creating a Farm Safety Plan 

Knowing about the farm safety risks and hazards that are most likely to affect you, your employees and your farm is obviously crucial. Still, you must also put that knowledge into action by creating a robust farm safety plan that covers all necessary safety precautions, rules, regulations and best practices. The Canadian Agricultural Safety Association (CASA) has taken the guesswork out of how to go about that by providing a number of templates, checklists and samples you can use to create your own custom farm safety plan.  

The basic steps CASA lists for creating a farm safety plan include:  

  • Having a health and safety policy statement for your farm and making your employees aware of it  
  • Assessing the risks that are most likely to impact your farming operation  
  • Identifying potential hazards and eliminating them or finding ways to negate the risk  
  • Codifying standard operating procedures  
  • Creating a preparedness plan that can be used in emergencies  
  • Conducting regular safety training sessions  
  • Clearly communicating responsibilities and best practices  
  • Investigating accidents and other incidents to find out how they can be avoided in the future  
  • Reviewing and updating your farm safety plan on a routine basis  

The Right Farm Insurance 

It's no secret that putting the work into safety and prevention is always preferable to dealing with the aftermath of a dangerous or damaging incident that could have been avoided. But some situations can't be avoided or occur despite your best efforts and intentions. Those situations are obviously very stressful and can cause major setbacks to the well-being of a business, such as a farming operation. The last thing you want at that point is to deal with huge financial losses on top of everything else, whether the losses result from litigation because you or your employees allegedly caused injury, property damage or harm to a third party or from the costs of restoring, repairing and replacing damaged and destroyed farm buildings, equipment and tools.  

That's why it's essential to ensure you have the protection against financial loss that is afforded to you by the right farm insurance in Ontario. When you contact the experienced brokers at Morison Insurance, we begin by consulting with you to find out exactly how you choose to run your unique farm, along with other details we need to determine your most significant risk exposures. We'll then find the best types of coverage for your farm insurance, along with multiple quotes, so you're able to make an informed decision about insurance protection for your Ontario farm. 

This content is written by our Morison Insurance team. All information posted is merely for educational and informational purposes. It is not intended as a substitute for professional advice. Should you decide to act upon any information in this article, you do so at your own risk. While the information on this website has been verified to the best of our abilities, we cannot guarantee that there are no mistakes or errors.

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