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Mobile devices key on the path to safer farms

Trevor Bacque | Bacque 40 Communicationsions

Farm safety is often talked about, but documented? Sometimes that’s another story. And it was certainly the story at Little Bow Colony near Champion, Alberta, until this past year.

Sam Hofer explains how his colony’s safety protocols and procedures were verbal, if anything, and the lack of a written record was troublesome. With his background in construction, he knew that the Colony needed enhanced safety measures.

He found inspiration for change at the volunteer fire department in Champion this past winter where he is a member. The fire hall utilizes QR codes on its equipment and trucks to quickly scan, perform and document safety checks. The 33-year-old thought it had merit for the Colony as well.

“The idea works, it’s useful, and I figured why can’t we adapt that into a safety program?” he said. “We were trying to make safety a bit more streamlined for ourselves. I wanted to develop something that was more hands on, something that workers and operators can have on their mobile devices.”

The safety program he developed utilizes Google Forms, a survey-type software, which is linked to a database he created that automatically inputs data farm workers input during their safety checks around the farm. A farmer using a tractor, for instance, goes up to the machine, opens the app and the tractor form. They perform a safety check and make any notes about the machine that may need attention. The form is saved and automatically uploaded into a database seen by Hofer and anyone else who may need to inspect or service it.

According to Hofer, he has running data on every single piece of equipment and vehicle at the farm, thanks to his app he developed through Apper, an open-source app builder.

The app contains shortcuts to all of the colony’s safety policies and emergency response plans in a paperless format. As Hofer reviews reports, he can send them on to others to take care of an issue depending on the urgency. Hofer believes that everyone will use it more and more because of its simplicity.

“Our goal is just to keep things streamlined and easier access for employees to use tools available to them, whether reporting hazards or near misses,” he said. If you can get them used to using them, they will use it. That’s really our goal, to help spread the awareness on a broader scale.”

Hofer’s program has been operational since March, 2021, and he continues to make small adjustments to simplify and make it even more user-friendly for the 18 to 20 full time employees.

Because the data syncs daily to his database, it means quarterly and annual reviews of safety and equipment performance will be much easier with everything collected in a central location.

“Farmers can have meetings with employees and say, ‘we want to do this, we want to minimize risk in these areas,’” he said. “You can really start to build a picture of how operations are performing on a safety basis.”

Hofer believes in the simple yet effective strategy so much that he volunteers his time and has freely offered it to any other farm or colony interested to shore up their own safety.

Supporting Hofer has been AgSafe Alberta, led by executive director Jody Wacowich. She is excited to see the safety movement at Little Bow and knows it’s easily possible for any farm to implement.

“They’ve made it so simple for people to capture the information, report it back and have it going into one consistent place,” said Wacowich. “Having that is ideal. I think we will have greater buy-in because it’s so simple.”

Wacowich explains the biggest barrier to establishing a new or pre-existing farm safety program is the time and money that goes into making it workable.

While that may be true, Wacowich answers back with a salient thought: “Injuries and accidents also cost us money with time lost and equipment damages. If you add that up there’s a cost to that, too.”