Inside View: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure

April 04, 2008
Written by Gary Jones
Students sometimes stare blankly when required to wear safety footwear in our college greenhouses. When it’s explained that in cases where students’ toes are run over by the electric (crop work) carts, and it’s usually not the cart that is taken to the emergency room at the local infirmary, then they get it.

According to FARSHA (Farm and Ranch Safety and Health Association in B.C.), we have good reason to be careful about such issues in our industry. The Workers Compensation Board (WCB) categorizes different sectors of agriculture by “Classification Units” (CUs). These include CUs such as Apiary, Sod/Turf Nursery, Poultry hatchery, Berry farming, Ranching, and of course, Greenhouse. In this case, Greenhouse covers floriculture and greenhouse vegetables.

WHERE ARE THE ACCIDENTS?
During the period 2002 to 2006, Workplace BC compared the number and percentage of Short Term Disability, Long Term Disability, and Fatal claims by CU. Just three of these, being Ornamental  nursery (21 per cent), Greenhouse (19 per cent) and Farm Labour Supply (12 per cent), made up over half the 3,686 claims from the 26 agricultural sub-sector CUs listed. Don’t forget that these numbers take no account of the relative number of employees in each of the CUs. For example, how many people do actually work in CU Wild Plant Harvesting or Artificial Insemination/Animal Breeding, compared to our sectors? It is highly probable that sectors with higher actual numbers of employees will have the majority of the accidents, but clearly there are some issues here.

ACCIDENT CATEGORY
FLORICULTURE VEGETABLE LABOUR SUPPLY 
Struck by Object 42  23 32
Over-exertion 58 18 17
 Fall to lower level 8 29 39
Fall to same level 25 26 23
Caught in/compressed by object 26 
Repetitive motion 23 4 3
WHAT KIND OF ACCIDENTS ARE THEY?
Some reported “accidents” are just downright bizarre. For example, “worker was held by throat and choked” can hardly be classed as an accident. Vehicle accidents are also included, if workers crash company-owned vehicles while at work. This is hardly caused by the specific Classification Unit work type, as this is a generic type accident. (Incidentally, many police forces now refuse to call such events “Road Traffic Accidents,” since they are not accidents at all, but collisions caused by human carelessness or error!) Categories recorded are included in the chart.

From this, FARSHA suggest that flower growers could benefit from focusing on over-exertion, repetitive motions and obstructions in the work area. Greenhouse vegetable growers on the other hand, should focus efforts on preventing falls from heights (ladders, scaffold, electric crop carts) and slips and falls on/from the floor.

Analyzing the claims made over the course of one year (2006) reveals that fingers and backs are the most vulnerable:

• Finger injury – 168 cases (47 per cent).

• Back injury – 83 (23 per cent).

• Ankle/toe injuries – 38 (10 per cent).

• Eye injury – 12 (one per cent).




PROMOTING WORKPLACE SAFETY

In most cases, these may not sound like particularly serious issues. For sure, it’s a lot of fingers cut with knives. However, FARSHA insists that the average number of workdays lost to workplace accidents is 35 days for floriculture and an amazing 44 for greenhouse vegetable worker injuries! You do the math as to how much that is costing you when someone goes onto WCB rolls. Right. Scary, isn’t it!

The take-away message is to get someone in to help you have a look at your workplace safety procedures and implement the action points now. Some actions might be very simple:

• Roll up those hoses and keep them on hooks (you’ll reduce many diseases, too).

• Clean up puddles to reduce slippery algae on pathways that cause slips and falls. (It also helps reduce those irritating fungus gnats and shore flies in the process.)

• Ensure nursery workers wear safety glasses when working over caned plants.

• Provide proper training for first-time electric cart users.

Other methods for reducing workplace accidents might be better done with professional help. Call the experts today – you’ll need all your workers available this summer!

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, we’ve actually never had to take a student to the emergency room. Phew.

Gary Jones is chair of production horticulture at Kwantlen University and serves on several industry committees. He can be contacted at  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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