All fun until someone gets killed

Commentary by Joe McWilliams

Ten people riding in the bucket of a tractor? That’s what people were saying after three of those kids fell out and got run over by the tractor and killed. It happened in Quebec the other day.

People do that sort of thing all the time around here, said one guy, interviewed for the TV news. Maybe not that many people in a bucket, but….

There you have it. There are safety standards and then there’s what people actually do. There’s common sense and there are also people complaining about how oppressive it is to have all these rules.

‘When we were kids there were no rules!’ That sort of thing. ‘We grew up quick and learned how to take care of ourselves.’ Etc. Etc.

It’s all true and it all makes sense until something like the Quebec incident. Or the two girls who went canoeing, sans lifejackets, in a swift stream in southern Alberta a few weeks ago and didn’t survive.

People made a big fuss about the Notley government’s attempt to improve safety for farm employees a few years ago. Perhaps there wasn’t enough consultation (we’ll give our farmer friends the benefit of the doubt on that one). But the outcry had a lot of plain old country willful ignorance in it. I.e. ‘We all grew up on farms without much in the way of safety regulations and we did okay.’

Sure you did. The ones who didn’t aren’t in any shape to comment, because they died or were badly maimed – by grain augers, by power-take-offs, under tractor wheels or whatever. The lucky ones got away with lax or non-existent safety rules and think because of their experience, attempts to do anything to improve safety are just government interfering where they don’t belong.

There is, of course, a point at which efforts to remove risk become onerously expensive. Finding an acceptable balance is always what it’s about.

All of this of course reminds me of my childhood, some of which took place on a farm in the middle of nowhere. My dad took risks he shouldn’t have – with himself and with his kids. For example, I used to ride with him in the fields on the John Deere tractor, balanced on the little toolbox attached to the inside of the big green fender. With one hand I gripped the edge of the seat, while the other I held the outer edge of the fender. There was only that grip preventing me from pitching forward under the big back tire when the machine stopped suddenly, which it did, often enough. I got used to expecting it and braced myself against the pull.

Looking back, it was no place a kid – or any other passenger – should ever have been allowed. But my dad – not to mention most of his generation – was not thinking that way. People weren’t thinking either about poisoning their kids with second-hand smoke, or what would happen to their unsecured children in a car accident or any of a dozen other common safety measures we take for granted today.

It’s true enough that you don’t have to cocoon your kids in a bubble to make sure nothing ever happens to them. There’s a price to be paid for that, too. But basic safety precautions – usually involving machinery – come on! I know I’m a lucky son of a gun to have survived that farm safety blindness. Other kids didn’t, including three innocent tykes from Quebec, just the other day.

Share this post

Post Comment