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Farm safety concerns top of mind as harvest season underway in southern Alberta

Click to play video 'Farm safety concerns elevated as harvest season underway in southern Alberta' Farm safety concerns elevated as harvest season underway in southern Alberta
With harvest season comes some potential and significant dangers for farmers. With large farming equipment on the move, Taz Dhaliwal explains why there’s an increased risk of accidents – Aug 12, 2020

One of the best harvest seasons southern Alberta has seen in recent years is underway, and with the surplus in crop, farmers will need to stay vigilant as the workload increases.

One of the biggest concerns farmers often have is large farm equipment coming into contact with power lines.

Read more: 2020 harvest begins in southern Alberta

According to FortisAlberta, there have been 15 farm-related power line contacts with its electrical distribution system in 2020 to date in southern Alberta.

In 2019, there were 20 in total in the region.

Of the 15 incidents in southern Alberta this year so far:
• six involved an air seeder or sprayer
• two involved irrigation pipe or equipment
• three involved track hoes

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FortisAlberta said the rest involved either a grain auger or equipment used to set up new bins, a silage truck or other large truck with the box up.

In a statement sent to Global News, FortisAlberta spokesperson Mona Bartsoff said based on data from the fall of 2019, the company saw an increase in contacts involving grain bins, augers, track hoes and trucks with boxes up in the last half of 2019.

“Please be mindful to ensure the box is down on big trucks and augers are lowered before transportation or moving around a farm yard, particularly if there are overhead power lines,” the company said, calling the increase in incidents “troubling.”

Read more: Province announces grants to further boost southern Alberta’s agriculture sector

FortisAlberta also noted, “since 1950, the size of farming equipment has doubled. Power line heights have stayed the same.”

Steven Dyck, the president of Western Tractor which sells farming equipment in Lethbridge, said that’s because the acreages have gone from 2,000 acres 30 years ago to 20,000 today.

“So, the number of implements they’ve had have grown, the acres have grown [and] more importantly, the speed at which they want to try and get that crop off the land has grown astronomically,” said Dyck.

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He added power lines are not the only structures farmers and other people need to look out for.

“Often times, it’s making sure they can properly navigate a corner. It really is intersections and corners where a lot of these altercations happen and uncontrolled intersections in particular,” he said.

“There’s a lot of gravel roads and range roads that cross highways and that’s where consumers and the general public really need to be aware — that they’re stopping and taking a second check.”

Read more: Southern Alberta canola farmers reap benefits of indirect trade deals

The Alberta Farm Safety Centre works to eliminate farm-related injuries and deaths in the province, and said another major concern related to farm work is fatigue.

“The reason farmers often suffer from fatigue, especially this harvest time of year, is because they’re always racing against the clock — Mother Nature is not their friend in many cases,” said Jordon Jensen.

“They have to get the crop in and harvested before the frost gets here, before a hail storm wipes out or whatever it might be, so they’re often required to work long hours.”

Jensen, who works as a manager at a Farm Safety Centre in Raymond, Alta., said it’s crucial for farmers to get enough sleep, eat healthy and exercise during this time.

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“Farmers often think, ‘Well, why do I need exercise, I’m working 16 hours a day, that’s plenty of exercise,’ but the reality is there’s not a lot of exercise being done when you’re doing harvest or sitting on a tractor or in the combine or whatever it might be,” he explained.

Read more: ‘Absolutely ideal’: wet weather helping many southern Alberta farmers after several dry years

Jensen said farmers have a lot of responsibility though not much control over the economy or commodity prices, but one of the things they do have control over is how many hours they put in.

“Many farmers, they’re not weak [people] they’re not slackers, they will push themselves to the limit to accomplish the job, get their crop off and hopefully have a livelihood.”