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Preparing farm youth for a safe harvest season

These harvest safety tips can help keep young workers and children living on the farm safe this fall.
During harvest, a lot of work needs to be done in a short amount of time. It is often during this busy time that priorities shift and safety can be compromised. Harvest is the peak season for agricultural-related injuries and fatalities according to Canadian Agricultural Injury Reporting.
Proper training and supervision
Information from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety shows that new and young workers have a higher rate of injury on the job.
‘If you manage a workforce that involves youth, whether the workers are your children or not, it is up to you to ensure that everyone has the knowledge and skills to prevent injuries on the job,’ says Kenda Lubeck, farm safety coordinator at Alberta Agriculture and Forestry. ‘Always take the time to first go through the activity of training the youth, even if it feels repetitive or redundant. This will ensure they learn and practice the safest way to do the job.’
Lubeck offers these tips to help train young workers effectively:
  • explain techniques that will make a task easier
  • provide comprehensive training for complex tasks such as equipment operation
  • specify dos and do nots of safe equipment operation
  • ensure appropriate warning decals are in place and understood by all workers
  • identify hazards and show how to eliminate or control them
  • once training is complete, monitor job performance to ensure your workers fully understand the job and are following all safety precautions
  • provide information about equipment maintenance requirements and records
  • provide proper and adequate supervision where needed
Safe play areas
For farms where very young children live, Lubeck recommends building a safe play area so children can play outside without the risk of being injured by harvest activities.
‘A safe play area is a carefully planned, designated location for children with limited exposure to hazards such as traffic, agricultural production equipment and environmental concerns. By designating a ‘hazard-free’ play area, you remove children from the busy fast-paced work environment while allowing them to develop a sense of their own place of belonging on the farm.’
The safe play area should:
  • be designated and reinforced by boundaries or physical barriers such as fences, gates or shrubs
  • have competent supervision and always be within sight and sound of a responsible adult
  • have safety rules for all children, including additional explanations for visitors and friends
  • be away from vehicle traffic and other hazards, such as machinery or unstable structures
  • be free from loud noises
  • be free from open water and drowning hazards such as ponds, dugouts or ditches
  • have adequate shade from the sun
  • provide adequate shelter from the wind, dust, or hazardous airborne particles
  • be protected with a strong barrier separating children from farm animals
  • have first aid, hand washing and toilet facilities nearby
  • be easily and regularly maintained – grass mowed, remove poisonous plants, sharp rocks, insect nests, and so on
  • provide enough space to run and explore
  • contain safe and age-appropriate play equipment such as a sandbox, swings and playhouse
Child care
Lubeck urges parents to plan ahead for child care. ‘If you know you are going to be ramping up for another hectic week of harvest, find someone – a baby-sitter, a relative, a rural day care service – to care for your children. This will ensure they are properly supervised and are not involved in the fast-paced work environment.’
‘Harvest is full of excitement and activity, and when you are in a rush it is tempting to bypass simple safety procedures that might slow you down. Taking the extra time to properly train young workers and to create safe play areas for young children can be a lifesaver.’
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