There are some great B.C. cowboys who struggle with literacy, ranch safety consultant Reg Steward says.
A contractor with the Farm and Ranch Safety Association (FARSHA), Steward has been assisting ranchers with WorkSafeBC paper work since 2001.
“There is a great heart within the agriculture sector with a lot of patience to that end because ranch owners value their employees,” Steward said. “They are great employees, for the most part, but some of them struggle in the area of literacy.”
Ranch employees are required to be registered with WorkSafeBC. There are approximately 2,000 ranches in B.C. registered.
It’s crucial that supervisors in those circumstances ensure workers very clearly understand health and safety requirements and responsibilities, and how to ask for help if they need it, he explained.
“Every single person working on a ranch has to be engaged in the safety program and in the process of safety on site.”
The full scope of occupational health and safety regulations was applied to the agriculture sector in January 2006.
“From that date forward there’s been more of a requirement to be in compliance with a complex collection of acts and regulations,” Steward said.
Most ranch managers are cognizant of the requirements, and aware of individual literacy levels.
“The cow bosses and farm supervisors on these ranches tend to be very good at walking these individuals through the process verbally and ensuring there is comprehension before the person every signs off on anything.”
There is significant employee turnover in agriculture and because of the nature of the tasks, literacy is not a major part of hiring criteria, Steward said.
Sometimes individuals who are in supervisory positions may struggle with some of the documentation required to maintain a full and alive safety program at a ranch site, Steward added.
Through his work for FARSHA Steward can walk supervisors through the requirement areas to effectively create documentation systems that help them to get the reports done.
FARSHA was established in 1993 by farmers and ranchers in B.C. who wanted a series of consultants throughout the province who understood the industry and could help them be in compliance and work safer.
“We try to structure the program in such a way that the documents are more easily understood and at times it involves bringing someone alongside a particular supervisor for the sole purpose of doing some of the record type of things,” Steward said.
Steward grew up ranching in the B.C. Interior.
He worked with the RCMP for 20 years, mostly in the Lower Mainland. After leaving the RCMP he managed a cow/calf operation and ran a dude ranch, then hired on with FARSHA.