From the Editor: Fiscal and physical stress

April 04, 2008
Written by
Agriculture is one of the most physically and fiscally demanding careers. Forget about the loonie at par, rising labour and fuel costs, and the toll the industry can take on the sleep patterns of today’s greenhouse growers.

Greenhouse stress also extends to the toll it can take on the body, if workers are not properly trained or supervised. Sprains and strains are Canada’s leading type of farm-related injuries. Statistics Canada has found that 15 per cent of agriculture-related injuries are back injuries. Health Canada estimates that musculoskeletal disorders, including back pain, result in $16.4 billion in direct (treatment and rehabilitation) costs and lost productivity across all professions.

And workplace safety experts say many of these injuries or pains can be prevented. All it takes is the proper design of the work environment, the use of the right tools and equipment, and appropriate worker training. “Manage more than just your back” is the theme of this year’s Canadian Agricultural Safety campaign.

“Teaching by example is one of the strongest ways of communicating safety in the workplace,” says Canadian Federation of Agriculture president Bob Friesen. “Whether it is your children or employees, workers will learn how to do things by the way the farmer does it. That’s why it is imperative for farmers and farm managers to set a good example and work safely.”

Repetitive stress injury affects some 11 per cent of Canadians. And it hits quite close to home. Many greenhouse jobs involve doing the same thing repeatedly throughout a regular shift. There are ways to minimize the potential of injury, especially by ensuring the worker is comfortably positioned within their workstation, and that they’re not stretching or contorting themselves to move things about.

A must-read for any greenhouse manager or employee is Health & Safety Guidelines for Ontario Greenhouses, produced by the Farm Safety Association with assistance from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, the Canadian Agricultural Safety Association, and The Ontario Greenhouse Alliance. While the information is priceless, the booklet is a bargain. It’s free. It can be downloaded (some 67 pages) from the FSA website.

Providing a copy to all new employees would be a great idea. The booklet is an easy read, clear and concise, and well illustrated. It would serve as a great resource for greenhouses across Canada. (There are some Ontario-specific references, but not many.) Topics include boiler safety, fire protection, ergonomics, personal protective equipment, proper hand washing, hazard warning symbols, pesticide storage and handling, the dangers of heat stress, machinery hazards, the safe operation of elevated mobile work platforms (quite common in vegetable ranges), and forklift safety, to list just a few.

At times, farming challenges can indeed be a pain in the neck. Or the lower back. Or the wrist. Workplace safety should be everyone’s full-time job.

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