Farm safety workshop held at Blue Spruce Farm
BRIDPORT — Local farmers and farm workers gathered at Bridport’s Blue Spruce Farm in late July for a farm-safety training workshop that consisted of basic farm first aid training, a talk on power takeoff (PTO) safety, and a hands-on fire extinguisher exercise.
The two-and-a-half-hour workshop was sponsored by Co-Operative Insurance Companies in conjunction with the Vermont Agency of Agriculture and University of Vermont Extension.
“We started the Farm Safety program seven years ago,” said Louise Waterman of the Agency of Agriculture, which holds farm safety workshops periodically around the state.
Around two dozen farm workers from Blue Spruce Farm and Morgan Hill Farm in Bridport, Nor-Dic Farm in Charlotte and other local farms attended the workshop on Blue Spruce’s property off Route 22A. About half of the attendees were Hispanic, and Co-Op Insurance provided a translator.
“Safety first is so important to us, and this sends a statement to our employees that says we’re serious,” said Marie Audet of Blue Spruce Farms, adding that, “even if you’ve had first aid, a refresher is good.”
George Cook, the Maple and Farm Safety Specialist at UVM Extension, kicked off the program with a talk on fire safety. Then, after a break for lunch, Ed Sullivan taught the course in basic farm first aid. Sullivan is the former long-time head of the Middlebury College First Response Team who has taught courses in farm safety and first aid.
HANDS ON TRAINING
A highlight of the afternoon was the fire extinguisher training, which featured a BullEx Live-Fire Training System. The BullEx machine, which looks like a camp stove, produces flames and provides a target for fire extinguisher practice.
After being taught the “PASS” system for fire extinguisher use — pull the pin, aim, squeeze the handle, and sweep — attendees got to practice on the BullEx.
“I’ve never actually used a fire extinguisher,” admitted Audet.
She’s not alone. For many workshop participants this was their first opportunity to experience the feeling of dousing a fire with compressed water.
Leo Larocque, loss control supervisor at Co-Op Insurance, said that many of the Hispanic farm workers in the area are unfamiliar with fire extinguishers. He said one of the most important roles of a safety workshop is to instruct migrant workers in proper fire extinguishing techniques, including periodic maintenance.
The bilingual workshop also covered the details of who to contact in case of emergency, similarly important for migrant workers.
In addition to ensuring a safe workplace, Co-Op officials said workshops like Wednesday’s help producers lower workers’ comp costs, as many providers give discounts to farm owners for being proactive and offering the program.
Instruction on driving a tractor safely on the road and the safe operation of PTOs (spinning shafts at the rear of tractors used to power other farm equipment) followed the first aid and fire safety instruction.
“Statistics-wise, agriculture is one of the most dangerous occupations in the U.S.,” said Sullivan, adding that “tractors’ PTOs, children riding on seats, (and) rollovers cause the most injury and deaths on farms.”