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Mobile safety units to educate farm workers
By SHARON UDASIN
25/12/2012
Two Volkswagen vans are taking to the country’s farms to provide health and safety training for those who till the land.
 
Two shining silver Volkswagen vans are taking to the country’s farms to provide interactive, on-board occupational health and safety training for those who till the nation’s land.

The vans are the latest phase in a mobile training first began by the Israel Institute for Occupational Safety and Hygiene about two decades ago, when the organization started bringing teaching services to industrial sites. While the institute deployed its newest large-sized teaching truck for industrial and construction sites about three or four years ago, the agricultural sector is new territory for the group.

“To reach the agricultural site you need a smaller car,” Andre Matyas, IIOSH head of public relations, told The Jerusalem Post from inside one of the vans on Monday, at a convention center in Ramat Efal. “The driver is also an instructor – he is an agricultural occupational safety and health expert.”

Inside the van, a mounted LCD monitor as well as a pullout touchscreen are harnessed to the right wall of the vehicle, in front of a cushioned bench and chair for about four people.

On the touchscreen, farm workers can play a Who Wants to Be a Millionaire-style game, in which they view various agricultural hazards and need to answer what they should do in response.

To account for the diversity of Israel’s agricultural workers, the game is available in Arabic and Thai in addition to the Hebrew version. Should the Eritrean population and others from Africa continue to grow as a presence on the country’s farms, then the institute will add their languages too, according to Matyas.

Following their gaming experience, the workers receive a live lesson from the driverteacher about various types of safety equipment that sits in three glass cases toward the front of the van – like breathing masks, face shields, eyewashers and harnesses for climbing trees safely. The instructions accompanying the equipment are, again, in Hebrew, Arabic and Thai.

The entire training takes about an hour, and can serve up to three or four workers at once, Matyas explained.

The vans have already been traveling around in the North and South for about a month as part of a pilot stage, and have been able to serve several hundred workers, he said. This is the first project of its kind to reach the agricultural sector in the entire world, Matyas said.

In one year, the vans will be able to reach 1,000 farming sites and instruct 10,000 people, explained Nahum Tir, IIOSH head of projects, at a ceremony adjacent to the vans in honor of their launch. Already, 50,000 workers have received lessons in the larger industrial trucks that have been running for the past few years, added Daniel Hadad, CEO of the institute.

Funding for the project comes entirely from Keren Manof, a foundation run by the National Insurance Institute.

National Insurance Institute director-general Prof. Shlomo Mor-Yosef said that just like doctors work to prevent diseases before they happen, this type of on-site agricultural training program will allow farmers to prevent dangerous accidents.

Praising the institute’s initiative, Agriculture Minister Orit Noked likewise agreed that in order to prevent the number of accidents occurring, the government must continue to take this sort of action. Doing so will also improve Israel’s status as a member of the OECD, she added.

Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Shalom Simhon announced at the ceremony that he had just that morning gotten the Finance Ministry to agree to a new NIS 1 million grant to the IIOSH – a surprise to all the institute executives at the launch. Providing additional funds to the institute would help keep Israel’s public services among the most advanced in the world, he said.

Meanwhile, in regard to the agricultural training vans, Simhon noted how much grief and money will be saved through accident prevention.

“We need to put in a big effort in order to reduce the number of accidents,” Simhon added.

Thus far, according to driver-teacher Asaf Cohen, the pilot is proving successful, and the workers seem to be enjoying learning through the touchscreen game, he said. Almost all of them have been answering the questions correctly, and the groups end up competing with other friends who visit the van both before and after. A worker does not receive a monetary reward for winning the game, Cohen told the Post, stressing that “his prize is his life.”
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