By Connor Lynch
A 26-year-old farm worker in Western Ontario could face sentencing in May for an incident two years ago in which an improperly secured boom on a seeder swung out on a roadway and killed the driver of an oncoming car, heading along Regional Road 65 in Smithville, a half-hour west of St. Catharines.
Benjamin Klunder had just finished a 16-hour workday when he said he forgot to secure the boom before hauling the seeder back to the farm. Agricultural safety and health specialist Glen Blahey with the Canadian Agricultural Safety Association told Farmers Forum that working hours like that, especially without sleep, can be as debilitating as being drunk.
Blahey said that a United Kingdom study suggests that sleep-deprived drivers, after two hours behind the wheel, make similar mistakes as drivers with a blood alcohol level of about half the legal limit.
Planting and harvesting are the most dangerous times of the year on the farm and demands on farmers can be profound, Blahey said. The most common farm fatality involves farm equipment, most often the tractor and the most common tractor-related fatality involves tractor rollovers.
Farmers need to take steps to ensure safety, Blahey said. Not only is sleep, nutrition and hydration important, but so is taking breaks, he said. “The longer you remain in a sedentary, fixed position performing one activity, the less attentive you are.”
For a farmer who has to press on to get the crop out of or into the ground, you don’t need an eight-hour sleep break to ensure safety, he said. Drink water, eat and take regular breaks.
Agriculture faces particular challenges in workplace safety for a variety of reasons, Blahey said. Many producers work alone or with few people. Farms are independent businesses without infrastructure or oversight. Planting and harvesting includes a time crunch.
That means farmers need to set self-imposed reminders. “Every two hours, stop, get off that piece of equipment, remain off it for five minutes and regroup,” said Blahey. “The challenge with sleep deprivation or exhaustion is similar to alcohol. It occurs gradually, and as it’s occurring, the person experiencing it doesn’t really recognize that it has occurred.”