QUESNEL – It was a sunny Friday evening as Mike Bailey, a long-time advocate of farm safety, was driving a tractor with equipment attached along Hwy 97 south of Quesnel. A pick-up truck driven by his wife, Katina, followed to ensure separation from other motorists.
Shortly after 5 pm, a Greyhound bus bore down on the pair Tractor on hwyfrom behind. By quarter past the hour, the highway was shut down in both directions and Bailey was dead. London remains in hospital, and her family is raising funds to assist with costs.
The tragedy underscores the fragility of life, even for those who have worked to protect it.
“What we have here is a guy who was exemplary in his attention and his attitude towards health and safety. I’ve worked with him for over 15 years, and he was ahead of the game when there was not as many regulatory requirements and he was extremely keen,” says Reg Steward, provincial ranching safety consultant for AgSafe BC. “He was very active with his inspections and his safety meetings.”
Having a pilot vehicle was typical of Bailey’s approach to safety, Steward points out: “That’s above and beyond what most people do.”
An investigation into the cause of the accident is ongoing and Steward says that even if Bailey followed all safety procedures, the circumstances of the specific situation were unique – and that can make all the difference.
The hurdle for many people, Steward says, is making safety a habit, and being able to think dynamically about the risks they’re facing. It’s easy to have the right attitude and take precautions, but opportunities always exist to make the wrong call.
“The reality is, risk in agriculture is always in flux. The creek you crossed yesterday that’s six inches is now six feet: you can have a procedure for moving across the creek but you must be able to read the dynamics that the risk has just presented to you,” says Steward, a working cowboy who knows how quickly conditions can change on the range. “You get out in a field by yourself and all sorts of things can happen. So dynamic risk management is really the key to the ability to survive things that turn ugly.”
Training people to gauge the risks of a particular situation and still do the right thing is something the farm safety consultants affiliated with AgSafe try to do.
“We can put a thousand things on pieces of paper in a binder in an office, but that pertains to a certain action or activity with a particular piece of equipment or task you’re trying to manage in a given context,” says Steward. “But the thing that will keep you alive will be your ability to exercise a changed behaviour given the in-flux or dynamic risk. … That’s one of the things we’re trying to help people with.”
When it comes to operating farm vehicles and equipment on public roads, ICBC has produced a guide that summarizes what’s required.
Part 16 of WorksafeBC’s occupational health and safety (OHS) regulations also covers what’s required for the safe operation of mobile equipment. Complying with the licensing, insurance and operating requirements should be second-nature, but grey areas exist.
Seatbelts, for example, are mandatory where provided and required by law, or when operating tractors where there’s a significant risk of roll-over or a risk of uneven ground (even if there’s a roll-over protection system in place). However, the regulations note that they’re not required “where there is no significant hazard of rollover, and the surface in the area of operation is maintained free of ground irregularities which might cause a rollover.”
The call is left up to the operator and that’s where Steward says safety becomes a question not just of compliance but knowing what to do.
“You need to manage risk because certain things are inherently risky,” he says. “There’s compliance, which is usually imposed upon us. There’s the attitude that we bring to health and safety which determines how far we’re going to go with some things, and then there’s the actual doing of [the] things that you know need to be done.”