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Involving the community key to ag safety success

posted: September 04. 2018 08:05a CST
by / Jenessa Freidhof, Regional Editor |

MARSHFIELD — Each community has its own problems it is looking to solve when it comes to agricultural safety, a topic of focus at a recent child agricultural injury prevention workshop in Marshfield.

Marshfield Clinic Research Institute Associate Research Scientist Casper Bendixsen said for this reason community-based approaches may be the best way to approach implementing safety education programs. He said there is a lack of strong agricultural policy when it comes to safety.

“In the world of agricultural health and safety, we don’t have strong policy and even if we did, how would we enforce it? Who would police it?” he said.

When considering alternatives to policy, Bendixsen said the options remaining are engineering the problem out or education on the issue.

“Engineering can be very difficult when the home is on the farm, which means the workplace is going to overlap with the home. We also talk about the benefits of raising kids on the farm so engineering out can be at odds with some of those values,” he said.

This leaves education on the hazards and risks associated with the agricultural workplace, especially in regards to children.

“Education ... usually takes the longest, takes more resources and more time to see results and not all education is equal.” Bendixsen said. “Just because there has been an education program on a topic in a community doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try again. You can learn from the previous program.”

Community adoption improves when members feel they are involved in the outcomes and have stake in the success, Bendixsen said, and it is important that the solution starts with conversations in the community.

“You don’t want to assume what the community’s goals, values, concerns and problems are. We are going to go in and learn about them before the program,” he said.

This is where community-based approaches come in. They aim to be an equal partnership between the experts facilitating the program and the members of the community. Bendixsen said although you may have funding and a goal related to a specific topic, it is important to accept if that isn’t the topic on the minds of the community.

“You may care about tractor safety, but they are more focused on water quality,” he said. “You have to roll with it and understand that even if you aren’t addressing your topic, you are building rapport.”

Bendixsen said when working with a community on a specific program, don’t reinvent the wheel if you can help it. Use standing committees and meeting times to talk about your program instead of creating whole new committees for those involved. He said patience, flexibility and creativity is key.

“Understand that people might not be excited right off the bat,” he said. “You also need to be honest about the resources available and your timeline as soon as you come in.”

As the project makes progress, Bendixsen said don’t make promises you can’t keep because those are things community members will remember.

“It is also important to always have an evaluation process and do not leave the community without giving a report,” he said. “Plan for success and appreciate outcomes you weren’t ready for.”

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