Traditionally, generations work together on many farming operations. The wisdom and experience of past generations can be invaluable. In the past, farming was smaller in scale and less technologically complex, and the pace seemed a bit slower than it is today.. But there always comes a hard time when the producer and their management team must decide when roles change for those who are close to retirement on the farm, and start to slow down.
This area of farm safety is one that is wrought with strong emotions. The traditions and family ties through generations of farming are strong. It is also an area of farm safety that is often overlooked for those exact same reasons.
As employees get older, they find themselves with slower reflexes, a steeper learning curve with new technology and sometimes other physical and mental challenges which can impact their ability to be safe.
Special consideration should be taken when managing different generations on your team, especially during busy seasons. The high stress and long hours can take a toll. One that they are often either unaware of or unable to face.
The safety of the entire farm crew should be taken into consideration, and then the roles everyone play should be examined and some hard conversations need to be had if certain tasks can’t be performed during the busy season, like operating a combine into the night or early morning. A way to address this is to assess each crew member prior to starting busy season tasks and evaluating their skill level, safety record and the jobs that need to be done.
Planning for the busy season should include refreshing the farm team with the safe operating procedures of farm equipment, machinery and orienting any new members to the safety program. Outlining the tasks and the required hours by staff should be clearly stated to all farm employees. Individual assessment of farm employees’’ strengths and weaknesses by management, in confidence, may offer an opportunity to speak to team members about expanding or reducing their active roles in season.
There are many roles that older employees can undertake in farming operations that will allow them to remain active in farming. While it may not be the job they previously enjoyed, their safety and the safety of the rest of the farming team must be the first job of farm owners and management.
Many farm owners shy away from addressing concerns out of respect, and often a sense of discomfort when faced with speaking to employees about changing roles. Planning, thoughtful discussion and mutual respect can lead the way when speaking about safety and changing the roles of members of the farm team.