Hutterite colony creates first-of-its-kind farm safety program
Written by: Paul Wipf on Thursday, May 12th, 2016
Posted with permission, Courtesy of Alberta Farmer newspaper,www.albertafarmexpress.ca
Written by Alexis Kienlen.
The Viking Colony is partnering with a safety expert to create a program geared to Hutterite colonies and their diverse enterprises.
Paul Wipf has a passion for safety and has always wanted to raise awareness about farm safety on his colony.
That prompted the farm manager of Viking Colony to partner with a workplace health and safety consultant to develop a first-of-its-kind safety program specifically for Hutterite colonies.
“This has been in my heart and mind for years,” said Wipf. “I’ve seen people get hurt and I’ve been looking to train people. I have been looking for resources for years.”
The sheer size of a colony and the diversity of its operations mean that there is a higher risk that accidents could occur. That is why Wipf was keen to take up Don Andrechek, a workplace health and safety consultant with Guardian Emergency Services, when he offered to conduct an audit and help the colony implement safety protocols.
“There’s so much equipment and technology on the farm now,” said Wipf. “As we go forward, this is a learning experience. We’re covering a lot, but we’re also being innovative.”
Farm safety became a hot issue when the provincial government introduced, and passed, Bill 6 — the Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act — last year despite widespread opposition from Alberta producers. Although the act exempts both Hutterite colonies and farms without paid employees from being subject to Occupational Health and Safety regulations, more needs to be done to keep colony members and their children safe, said Wipf.
Two Hutterite children recently died in accidents — a 10-year-old boy from the Lougheed Colony near Killam was killed last November in a forklift accident, and an 11-year-old girl from a colony near Portage la Prairie, Man. drowned in a spillway last month.
While there is some safety training available, there was nothing that addresses the diversity of activities on a Hutterite colony until now, said Wipf.
He contacted Andrechek after the safety auditor and inspector (who also designs safety management systems) sent a letter to www.hutterite.org, saying large farms are often far behind businesses in other sectors when it comes to safety training and practices.
“Agriculture has the most fatalities and the most incidents of anybody and that’s because of a lack of safety awareness,” said Andrechek. “The fatalities of children are my biggest concern — not just on colonies, but in the entire farming industry.”
Last month, he came to the colony and conducted a walk-through of the entire operation, including its welding, repair, carpentry, and electrical shops; kitchen; and swine, poultry and cropping divisions. He then worked with the colony to develop a comprehensive safety program.
“It’s for the safety of our whole community and the well-being of everyone who lives here. It’s a no-brainer,” said Wipf. “Now we can apply these ideas and help with safety awareness.”
The colony has 113 members and virtually everyone — including all school-age children — attended information sessions Andrechek put on after his inspections to go over safety standards and ask questions. Members of the colony will be brushing up on their CPR courses, and will create an emergency response plan.
At the end of the day’s information session, seven people volunteered to act as safety officers for the colony. The group will hold meetings to discuss safety issues and is assuming shared responsibility for safety on the farm. Wipf hopes to bring back Andrechek to review the colony’s progress.
He’s also promoting the safety program to other colonies and has volunteered to attend other information sessions with Andrechek. Other colonies have already expressed interest in the program.
“This can have a positive effect on the industry and make a difference to my community and to my society,” said Wipf.