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Culture of Safety on the Farm Starts with Communication

When Roger Chevraux is asked how a culture of safety is established on his farm, he's quick to note that it all comes down to communication.

“I really think that the culture of safety is based on having a culture of communication on the farm. You can't have the one without the other," he says.

Chevraux, a fourth-generation farmer, operates Century 12 Farms near Killam, Alberta, growing wheat, barley, and canola on land his great-grandfather started farming in 1912.

Having grown up on the farm, Chevraux has seen first-hand how farm safety has become more of a priority over the years, and a focus on enhancing open communication has undoubtedly played a role. However, encouraging communication amongst his workers is just one part of the equation; the other is to ensure they know their voices are heard and valued.

“If someone says, 'That ladder is starting to show signs of fatigue,' then we go out and get new ladder right away, we don't just put it on a to do list. When someone voices a concern, we look after it right away," explains Chevraux, who is also president of the Canadian Canola Growers Association's board of directors. “Having a culture on the farm where there is open communication and people are comfortable coming forward with questions and concerns is so significant because it can help avoid a lot of problems."

That open communication also helps workers voice any limitations for completing a particular job. Chevraux explains that he once had a worker who had a fear of heights and couldn't climb the grain bins. Arrangements were made so that particular worker would not have to climb the bins. 

“If I don't pay attention to those kinds of things, I know that worker isn't coming back the next day," Chevraux says. 

“I always tell our crew that if you have a problem, come and get me first. It's important to be conscious that there are limitations to what people are comfortable doing and their comfort level comes up the more you spend time training them and making sure they understand the safety elements."

Encouraging those conversations to occur in the first place is essential. Chevraux notes that the key is not to demean or invalidate someone's concerns or questions. After all, making people apprehensive to voice their hesitations is a sure-fire way to end up with safety issues.

“It's important to make it so that every person working on the farm is comfortable with coming to you and expressing their concerns with a job," he explains. “You want to encourage that behaviour, not belittle them or make them feel forced to do something they're not comfortable with, because that's an easy path to having accidents if people start holding things back from you."

It's no secret that even the most experienced farmers can make mistakes. That's why, on Chevraux's farm, there's an emphasis on fostering a team environment where everyone looks out for one another, and crew members are urged to double-check one another's work to help spot errors.

“Just like anyone else, I'm not immune to making mistakes, but working together we can catch those mistakes before they become a big issue," says Chevraux. “And because I allow and expect them to check my work, they know that I'm going to check their work. It's not meant as a slight against anyone. But mistakes happen, and little issues develop into big issues if they don't get resolved right away."

While farm safety is sometimes perceived as daunting, Chevraux notes that doesn't have to be the case when safety is ingrained into daily activities. A prime example is how supper is brought out to the field during harvest on Chevraux's farm, which is more than just a meal – it's also intended as an opportunity for everyone to take a much-needed break.

“It used to be that you would try to eat a sandwich while driving the equipment. Now, we bring supper out and it's insisted that for at least a half an hour, everyone gets off their equipment and we have a chance to relax and chat about what's going on," explains Chevraux, who credits his wife, Heather, for initiating the idea. “There are lots of benefits to having supper in the field, but the main one is that it gives everyone a break. That half hour break makes a world of a difference."

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