A potential life-saving farm tool

These Ontario farms are joining a growing number of businesses with defibrillators for use in the event of a heart attack

Two midwestern Ontario farm businesses followed up on their most recent round of Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) training by installing on-site automated external defibrillators (AEDs). And both farmers agree it’s a trend that will likely grow.

“We’ve known for a long time that beef farming isn’t for the faint of heart,” quipped Schaus Land and Cattle co-owner Ken Schaus, when contacted by Farmtario about the business’s decision in the late summer 2018 to place AEDs at farm locations in Alliston and Walkerton, and another at the company’s private stockyard in Elmwood.

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Schaus quickly added there was a serious business and moral philosophy behind the decision. “We take health and safety very seriously,” not just for employees, but also the truckers, suppliers and buyers who likewise frequent the Schaus Land and Cattle locations.

Why it matters: Since 2006, farm operations in Ontario have been required under the OHSA to make employees aware of on-the-job risks, and to provide them with certified training about how to mitigate risk and respond in the event of a health and safety incident.

AEDs first came into the Ontario spotlight due to public-led campaigns for their placement in arenas and sports facilities. The goal is to boost the possibility that a heart-restarting electrical charge can be administered to a person’s heart as soon as possible after they fall victim to a potentially life-threatening heart attack — even before professional first responders can arrive following a 911 dispatch.

According to Erin Robinson, the same goal should be on the minds of farm operators everywhere. Robinson is a co-owner of Vista Villa Genetics, headquartered on the farm between Walton and Seaforth. She says the closest location of Huron County Paramedics is in Kinburn, but in some scenarios an ambulance may have to be dispatched from farther away because the nearby vehicle is already busy.

“If we had to call an ambulance, it could be 15 minutes or even up to 30 minutes, depending on where the ambulance is,” she said.

According to an online post by certified Health and Safety instructor Stacey Palen of Crediton — through whom Vista Villa Genetics receives its OHSA training — “with hands-on CPR only, your rate of revival (following a life-threatening heart attack) is two to five per cent… But with a defibrillator, your rate of revival can be 80 per cent.”

Voice-prompt instructions

AEDs are typically hung on a wall or fence in a prominent location. Not only do the unit’s manufacturers provide easy-to-follow written instructions, there are also voice prompts when the AED is opened, and the equipment will monitor a victim’s heart activity and determine whether or not to proceed to administering an electrical charge.

Robinson said Vista Villa Genetics first considered acquiring an AED during a previous round of OHSA-mandated training three years ago, but decided the units available at the time came at slightly too high of a price, and without any form of ongoing support or training. But when the time came to recertify that training, they learned from Palen about recent advancements in the AED world.

She could provide them with the same Canadian-supplied AED, the Philips HeartStart. And the training on how to use it would be provided by her, free, as part of the OHSA training. (You can also get AED training separately, but you would have to pay for that.)

“Just with the number of staff we have, and the fact that farming is one of the most dangerous occupations, it made sense,” Robinson said. The AED was installed in the farm’s office in mid-October, and it took on a bit of a community feel as the Robinsons made sure to inform the neighbours about the unit’s location in case they’re confronted with a heart-related incident on their property.

The Schauses, too, purchased and received training for AEDs as part of their required OHSA sessions. In their case, the instructor was from the St. John Ambulance Society. It’s not that a person with no training can’t use the AEDs, stresses Schaus Land and Cattle Project Manager Ben Rier, but it was recommended to them by the instructor that employees be trained.

“Once you’ve had the basic training, the technology is pretty foolproof,” Rier said.

Robinson suggested “it would be amazing” if farms could get a discount on insurance — farm insurance and workers’ safety insurance — if AEDs are in place. And maybe farm commodity groups could promote the idea of financial support for their installation.

But for Vista Villa Farms, “honestly, if it helps one person it will be worth the expense.”

“We hope we never have to use it,” Robinson added, in a Twitter posting about the newly installed unit. “But we are not afraid to if needed.”

About the author

Contributor

Stew Slater operates a small dairy farm on 150 acres near St. Marys, Ont., and has been writing about rural and agricultural issues since 1999.

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