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Farming is more than just work for many; it's a way of life that is rewarding despite the tough physical work. But now it's becoming increasingly apparent that the unique challenges faced daily by farmers - from the long hours to the isolation to the many uncertainties beyond their control - can also greatly impact their mental health and well-being.
On farms and ranches across the country, struggles are taking their toll, leading to anxiety, depression, post-traumatic disorder, and even suicide. Although there are no Canadian statistics to assess the extent of mental health issues among farmers, a survey of more than 1100 farmers in Canada conducted by Guelph University professor Andria Jones-Bitton found that 35% of respondents met the criteria for depression. 58% met the criteria for anxiety and 45% were highly stressed - far higher than the general population.
The same survey found that 40% of farmers were uneasy seeking professional help, largely out of fear for what others would think. The traditional image of the hardy farmer who overcomes adversity is indeed hard to shake.
In Canada, the agriculture and agri-food industries support 1 in 8 jobs (2.3 million workers) and contributes over $100 billion to the country's economy. It makes good sense to build resilience among farmers to help them thrive in times of uncertainty or stress.
From June 2018 to January 2019, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food conducted a study on the mental health challenges facing Canadian producers. Their Mental Health: A Priority for our Farmers report identifies many stressors that make producers particularly vulnerable to mental health issues.
Farmers live with many uncertainties that put them under pressure. Weather can make or break their livelihood yet is completely out of their control. Financial challenges from running a business and economic volatility are major stressors. Uncertain crop yields, machinery breakdowns, handling dangerous goods, and concerns over the well-being of livestock are also ongoing stressors. Long hours working on the land, away from people and community supports, can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness which adds to their stress.
The Committee's report looked at existing initiatives across the country to support producers facing mental health challenges, including telephone help lines, consultations with mental health and agricultural professionals, and funding from the federal government and agricultural producers' associations.
Farm Credit Canada offers online resources and an assessment tool through their "Rooted in Strength" program. The Do More Agriculture Foundation is piloting a project that offers mental health first aid training for agricultural communities in Canada. The Union des producteurs agricoles, in partnership with the Association québécoise de prévention du suicide, created a network of "Sentinels" across Quebec, who regularly interact with farmers and are trained to identify people vulnerable to mental illness.
But existing resources can be difficult to access due to unpredictable working hours, remote locations, and lack of reliable Internet. And not all health professionals are experienced with the specific challenges faced by agricultural workers. The report calls for more to be done, listing ten recommendations. It suggests the federal government consider the impacts that regulatory changes, labour reviews and audits may have on farmers. As well, the report recommends help to combat the growing violence against agricultural workers through public awareness campaigns and strategies. The report also calls for education and capacity building, more help lines, e-mental health services, funding for recognized organizations to provide mental health assistance to farmers and their families, and national co-ordination of further research targeting the mental health of farmers.
Tips & Tools
This is the second in a series of Tips and Tools articles on health and safety compliance
Every worker in Canada has the right to a safe work environment. Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, or its jurisdictional equivalent, everyone at or associated with the workplace has accountability for their own health and safety and also of those around them.
Many basic elements of occupational health and safety legislation such as the rights and responsibilities of workers, responsibilities of employers, supervisors, etc. are similar across jurisdictions in Canada. However, the details of the legislation and how the laws are enforced can vary from one jurisdiction to another.
Manager and supervisor responsibilities
Managers and supervisors act on behalf of the employer and are therefore responsible for meeting the duties of the employer as specified in the Act for the work they direct.
Employees have the following three basic rights:
The general responsibilities of governments for occupational health and safety include:
What happens when there is a refusal for unsafe work?
An employee can refuse work if they believe that the situation is unsafe or dangerous to either themselves or their co-workers. When a worker believes that a work refusal should be initiated, then:
The legislation holds employers responsible to protect employee health and safety. Inspectors from the government department responsible for health and safety in each jurisdiction carry out enforcement. In some serious cases, charges may also be laid by police or crown attorneys under Section 217.1 of the Canada Criminal Code (also known as the "Westray Bill" or "Bill C-45"). This section imposes a legal duty on employers and those who direct work to take reasonable measures to protect employees and public safety. If this duty is "wantonly" or recklessly disregarded and bodily harm or death results, an organization or individual could be charged with criminal negligence.
If you have specific concerns about what regulations require employers and workers to do, you should consult local authorities in your jurisdiction.
Part 1: Understanding Worker Rights , Health and Safety Report Volume 17 Issue 6
On October 23, the Canadian Society of Professionals in Disability Management (CSPDM) is hosting the Innovative Workplace Disability Management for Better Outcomes conference in Toronto.Take advantage of this unique opportunity to learn about best practices in disability management and get innovative and practical tools that can be readily applied to facilitate safe and sustained employment outcomes.
The conference will be of interest to all professionals who interact with individuals experiencing injury or illness with the goal of returning to or staying at work.
Topics at the conference include:
CSPDM's mandate is to maximize the socio-economic contribution of and opportunities for injured or ill Canadians in the workforce by establishing and advocating best practice standards in disability management.
For more information and to register, visit the CSPDM website.
This month's feature podcast is Artificial Intelligence: Managing the Positive and Negative Implications for Workers. Also, October is Healthy Workplace Month. Listen to Supporting Mental Health in the Workplace.
The spread of artificial intelligence into science, society, and the workplace is a revolutionary change that will have profound impact on not only jobs but also on the well-being of workers. Bill Wilkerson, Executive Chairman of Mental Health International authored a recently published report entitled One Human One Not: Mental Health in the Era of Artificial Intelligence.
In this episode Bill shares his views and findings from the report and recommends that AI be managed carefully to prevent it from becoming a major intruder into the mental health and well-being of workers and families.
The podcast runs 12:39 minutes. Listen to the podcast now.
Emma Ashurst, Senior Occupational Health and Safety Specialist at CCOHS, explains what steps to take when implementing strategies to strengthen the overall mental health of a workplace. From conducting a hazard analysis for mental health, to implementing policies, this episode offers tips to encourage positive mental health.
The podcast runs 12:45 minutes. Listen to the podcast now.
CCOHS produces free monthly podcasts on a wide variety of topics designed to keep you current with information, tips, and insights into the health, safety, and well-being of working Canadians. You can download the audio segment to your computer or MP3 player and listen to it at your own convenience... or on the go!
A lack of civility and respect are often at the root of violence, harassment and bullying issues within workplaces. How do you champion and prioritize a civil and healthy workplace before it gives way to a toxic culture ripe with resentment, rudeness, and violence?
A crucial part of any healthy workplace is a workplace violence prevention program that outlines preventive measures against all forms of harassment and violence - including sexual, domestic and workplace. Whether driven by legislation or motivated by doing the right thing, policies and procedures need to be comprehensive, supported by leadership, and underscored by an environment that values respect, consideration and professionalism.
Gain practical knowledge and leave with tools so you can take action to minimize the potential for harassment and violence in your workplace, in this one-day workshop developed by CCOHS. Sessions will be held on November 18 and January 14 in Mississauga, Ontario.
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The Health and Safety Report, a free monthly newsletter produced by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), provides information, advice, and resources that help support a safe and healthy work environment and the total well being of workers.
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