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farm safety

Innovation runs in the family

Chilliwack nursery has a tradition of nurturing employee commitment to safety.

ByAmy Petherick

innovation. GordonMathies and his daughter


Tamara—representing the second and third generation ofMathieses to run CannorNurseries—uphold a family tradition ofmaking safe farmpractices a high priority at the nursery. “You can’t be everywhere all the time,”

saysGordon, current CannorNurseries president. “It’s really about ownership for the employees over their own safety.” He credits his father as being the first

safety innovator on their operation, as he was quick to get involvedwith the Farm andRanch Safety andHealth Association (FARSHA)—British Columbia’s safety association for agricultural employers—back in the early 1990swhen the organizationwas just getting started. Fast-forward two decades and the

Mathieses have grown their operation while redoubling their safety efforts. Cannor is the largestwholesale nursery inWestern Canada andGordonMathies nowsits on the board of FARSHA and is involvedwith the Canadian Agricultural Safety Association (CASA). At the nursery level, theMathieses

have established formal safety procedures,whichMathies says demonstrate a continued commitment to safety since his father’s time at the helm. The nursery nowoperateswith a

designated safety committee, formal safetymeetings and awritten farmsafety manual. Tamarawrote themanual and is the

company safety officer. ForGordon, it all justmakes good

business sense. “If you get into a culture of safety on your farm, itmeans you have to think of newways of doing jobs to make themas efficient as before, but safely,” he says. “Talking safetywith your employees gets themto think of things more aswell.”

he owners of a Chilliwack nursery owe at least part of their success to a family legacy of farmsafety

With a family-based

company, Tamara says it’s important to her that her co-workers understand that she cares about themboth professionally and personally. “If the staff don’t think you care about their safety, then they’re not going to care aboutworking hard for you.” Wendy Bennett,

executive director of FARSHA, hasworked with theMathieses and other British Columbia families to identify and control safety hazards on the farm. Bennett says she has seen how involved employees are at Cannor Nurseries. Although the focus on safety comes

Tamara Mathies and her father Gordon, of Cannor Nurseries.

fromthe top, she says it’s demonstrated rather than preached. “Any of theworkers arewelcomed to

come forwardwith suggestions and ideas or to noticewhen things aren’t as safe as they could be,” she says. “Then they brainstormtogether, and (theMathieses) involve the employees because they’re the ones doing the job.” “Just becausewe’re themanagement

doesn’tmeanwe always knowbest and our bodies aren’t doing it eight hours a day!” says Tamara,who is also taking occupational health and safety studies part-time through the British Columbia Institute of Technology. Bennett recalls one visit to the nursery

when she noticedworkers riding around in a self-propelled cartwith bigwheels. Theywere using it to prune lowfoliage in place of bending over and doing it by hand. Bennett points out thatworking bent

over for an extended period of time poses a considerable risk of musculoskeletal injury. The staff knewit too. So they approached the safety committeewith their cart idea. Glen Blahey, an agricultural safety and

health specialistwith CASA, says ergonomics, or the applied science of equipment design intended to reduce injuries, is very important for nurseries and fruit and vegetable growers. “These industries tend to involve a lot

of bending, lifting and repetitive motions,which can lead to strains of the hands,wrists, arms, back, shoulders and neck,” he says. “If employers take the time to help

reduce strain injuries through ergonomics like the cart, handling techniques, good posture and frequent breaks, theywill see the benefit” he adds, pointing out that fewerworkerswill be off injured and in better health generally. Once theworkers at Cannor had the

go-ahead, they built the cart themselves. Bennett says this not only enhanced safety procedures, but also enhanced efficiency. Tamara says it’s a solution she never

would have thought of on her own as the safety officer. This iswhy shemakes sure there is a

representative fromeach aspect of the business—management, shipping, packing and fieldwork—on the safety committee. She also keeps a spot for an English-as-a-second-language representative since the nursery employs severalworkers originally fromIndia who aremore comfortable coming forward using their native language. Tamara says themore she reads up

about safety, themore she realizes being proactive in theworkplace really saves a business time andmoney.Happy workers are productiveworkers. “Wewant to keep people as

knowledgeable aswe can about everythingwe do so that they feelmore comfortable in doing all the duties that we ask of them.”

British Columbia Berry Grower • Winter 2014-15 13

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