Personal Protective Equipment
Even with safety guidelines and protocols in place, incidents in the workplace can happen. The primary function behind personal protective equipment (PPE) is to minimize the risk of exposure to workplace hazards—it does not prevent or reduce the them.
According to Mark Tse, director of engineering, environment, health, and safety at United Farmers of Alberta (UFA), the first line of defence against workplace incidents are safety regulations and protocols. Identifying, then eliminating hazards is the best means of protection. Then if all else fails, PPE help to protect us.
“Your last means of defence against your body is PPE. If your PPE is protecting you, it probably means other things have gone wrong,” says Tse.
From head to toe, there is PPE for all kinds of work including agriculture. Although Tse mainly coordinates safety and regulations for UFA factory workers, there is some crossover between their PPE and those of agricultural workers.
Protective Eyewear and Ear Protection
Starting with PPE for our head, protective eyewear and headgear are important. Tse says that eyewear is generally used whenever a worker is dealing with any chemicals, such as pesticides, herbicides, and even cement.
“[When] dealing with chemicals—it might get in your eye [and] if you've ever had cement in your eye, it's really bad,” Tse says.
In workplace situations where loud machinery is present, ear protection is extremely important. Without proper ear protection in a noisy environment, workers can be at risk of noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). For ear protection, there are ear plugs and ear muffs. Ear plugs are generally disposable or multi-use. Multi-use ear plugs can last several months if it they are appropriately maintained. Ear muffs, on the other hand, can last a lot longer than earplugs with proper maintenance.
There are a variety of gloves available, but which gloves to use are dependent on the task at hand. For instance, when handling heavy material, it is recommended to use fabric or leather work gloves that have grip. Something to consider for agricultural workers are chemical-resistant gloves. When using pesticides or herbicides, the gloves are used to protect the skin from these harmful substances. Among other protective gloves are cut-resistant for handling sharp objects, insulated for cold weather, and rubber insulated for electric work. Depending on the task, there’s a glove that will fit.
Safety boots, like protective gloves, are used for a number of reasons. Steel-toed boots is one of the main PPE footwear. When lifting heavy material or equipment, steel-toed boots ensure that a workers foot does not get crushed in case of an incident. Tse adds that UFA workers are required for their boots to be equipped with steel shanks—this safeguards their feet from any sharp objects like loose nails.
A fundamental piece of PPE is clothing which includes everything from high vis vests to flame-retardant overall. Properly insulated jackets, especially for people who work outside, can ensure that workers can withstand extreme cold conditions. High vis vests or jackets are worn so workers are easily spotted which is helpful in cases where large machinery is involved.
Essential PPE clothing which crossover between UFA workers and agricultural workers are flame-retardant overalls. When dealing with fuel for farming equipment, overalls make it more difficult to catch fire.
But Tse adds that the type of material worn underneath the overalls matters as well. Cotton or any other natural fibre is ideal for clothing.
“They're not synthetic because synthetic will burn—you'll actually get a worse burn from a synthetic material close to your skin as opposed to natural fibre,” Tse says.
Avoiding workplace hazards
While PPE is important, understanding the potential hazards in different work situations and how to avoid them through proactive safety measures.
For instance, Tse brings up the example of reflective vests—when a driver is operating heavy machinery, they make workers more visible to the driver. However, there are other guidelines in place.
“You want to have eye contact with the person who's backing up the tractor. You want to make sure you're not stepping in front of the tractor. You've got that reflective vest just as a backup safety so somebody can see you easy,” Tse says.
Sources:  The Agriculture Health and Safety Network. (July 2016). Retrieved from https://www.casa-acsa.ca/wp-content/uploads/Hearing_Poster_8.5x11_EN.pdf  Canadian Agriculture Safety Association. Retrieved from https://www.casa-acsa.ca/wp-content/uploads/Hearing_Poster_8.5x11_EN.pdf  Canadian Agriculture Safety Association—Toolbox Talks #2 Glove Selection and Use. Retrieved from https://www.casa-acsa.ca/wp-content/uploads/CASA-Building-Safety-Series-2019-Toolbox-Talks-ENG-Gloves.pdf  Canadian Agriculture Safety Association—Toolbox Talks #1 Safety Footwear. Retrieved from https://www.casa-acsa.ca/wp-content/uploads/CASA-Building-Safety-Series-2019-Toolbox-Talks-ENG-Footwear.pdf