The business risk you can’t ignore — but probably do

The Business Risk You Can’t Ignore — But Probably Do

Highlights

  • Dean Shaver doesn’t pull his punches when talking about workplace accidents
  • He founded CSI Canada Safety after a terrible fall from a derrick
  • Farmers need to take on the role of safety specialist on their operation
  • Making safety a priority means talking about it every day

It’s the biggest threat you face on the farm — and the one you’re most likely to ignore.

But anyone who doesn’t take workplace safety seriously should sit down with Dean Shaver.

It will not be a comfortable conversation. The CEO of CSI Canada Safety has an inexhaustible supply of tales of terrible accidents from the oil patch, farms, and elsewhere. And he doesn’t pull his punches.

“If you hate people, fine, then go ahead and hurt yourself or get yourself killed,” says the 62-year-old Albertan. “But if you love your family, then you’d better start thinking.

“Whether you own the farm or you’re a farm hand, your job is not worth dying for.” - Dean Shaver

“When you talk about someone getting hurt, it isn’t about breaking a finger or a wrist. Because we have such big equipment, you’re either dead or crippled.”

Shaver grew up on a farm, had a pig operation in his younger days, and spent years working on oil rigs before he suffered a serious workplace accident in 1997. Although told he would be in a wheelchair by age 50, he quickly returned to work and in 2006 founded CSI Canada Safety.

Tragic tales

In the safety business, the number one question is always: How do you get people to listen? Shaver’s answer is to tell stories about “guys not thinking.” He provides names, dates, and horrific details.

Many are from the oil patch, but he’s got lots of farm stories, too. The kid who slipped off the fender and fell beneath the wheel of the tractor his dad was driving. The father overcome by hydrogen sulphide while cleaning a manure reservoir and the son who went in to check on him and died, too.

It’s the details that stick in your mind. Here’s Shaver’s description of his 18-foot-fall from a derrick.

“As I’m falling, I see a crowbar stuck in the ground and I’m going to land right on it. A fall wouldn’t have been bad, but because I had to twist like a cat trying to avoid being impaled, I ended up landing completely cockeyed, on my feet backwards.”

One heel plate broke in 13 parts, the other 11. “It was like dropping a dinner plate on a concrete floor from eight feet above,” said Shaver, whose recounting of his medical treatment and years-long recovery is no less graphic.

Real-world approach

Of course, every farmer knows grim details of farm accidents affecting people they know … or knew. But a safety-first attitude remains a rare one in occupations like farming, where time is short and the list of must-do jobs is long.

Shaver gets that. He was never fond of safety officials. “My attitude was: We don’t have time for this.”

It’s not that he didn’t take safety seriously, it was he didn’t respect the people delivering the message. Most, he says, never worked on the rigs and their well-intentioned safety protocols didn’t mesh with the real-world necessities of getting the job done.

So every safety specialist he hires has extensive experience on a rig, pipeline, or other oil patch job.

“It’s all about the mindset,” he says. “If you haven’t done the job, who’s going to listen to you?”

That approach fuelled his company’s success — more than $50 million in revenues since 2009.

Plan to be safe

Of course, farms don’t have dedicated safety specialists, so Shaver says the farm owner needs to play that role. That means starting every morning with a discussion of the day’s work plan and the safety hazards of that work.

“How many farmers do that?” he asks. “They get so used to working with their sons or wife or a couple of hired guys, they figure they don’t need to plan. But you do and it’s not complicated.”

A simple set of questions will do, he says. What equipment will you be using? Is it in good shape and set up properly? What are the tempting ‘shortcuts’ you need to avoid?

“It’s called taking responsibility and that needs to come from the farmer first. If he doesn’t make it a priority, then who will?”

Part of that is spending money to make the workplace safer — things like 80-foot-long augers and overhead wires in the yard are a poor mix — but it’s mostly about attitude, Shaver says.

“It’s a myth that people get into accidents because they’re trying to save time. It’s because they don’t think it will happen to them.”

But it will happen to some farm families, and the best chance of avoiding it is the farm owner taking a few minutes every day to think — and talk — about safety, says Shaver.

“Whether you own the farm or you’re a farm hand, your job is not worth dying for,” he says. “Take your time, think it through, and talk about what could go wrong before it does go wrong.”

Glenn Cheater is a veteran farm journalist based in Edmonton and specializing in business management, entrepreneurship, and innovation.