ORONO, Maine — Before he was named supervisor of Blueberry Hill Farm in Jonesboro in 2005, Jeffrey Brann already had been working at the University of Maine research facility for five years as its safety officer, dealing with whatever issues came up.
His work at Blueberry Hill Farm and that of Randy Smith, Brann’s counterpart at Aroostook Farm in Presque Isle, and their employees were recognized Monday afternoon in a ceremony during which they were awarded the Maine Department of Labor’s Safety and Health Award for Public Employers.
The award, known as SHAPE, recognizes public sector employers who provide a safe and healthy workplace.
The two farms are the first agricultural facilities out of 27 public employers that have earned SHAPE awards since the program started in 2005.
Monday’s ceremony was held in the Memorial Union with UMaine administrators and Maine Department of Labor Deputy Commissioner Edmond McCann speaking during the presentation.
“It’s a kind of a pat on the back,” said Brann, who attended the ceremony with Josh Stubbs, one of his three full-time employees. “You work a lot and sometimes you feel like you don’t get that pat on the back. But it’s great to be acknowledged for something that we really take pride in, which is the safety on the farm.”
Ed Ashworth, UMaine’s dean of the College of Natural Sciences, Forest and Agriculture, said he wasn’t surprised the two farms received SHAPE recognition.
“When the agricultural research farms were established, the idea would be research and the best practices at these farms would extend knowledge out to the agricultural sector,” Ashworth said. “I’m very proud of our two farms.”
Blueberry Hill focuses on blueberry research while Aroostook Farm works mostly on breeding potato varieties.
SHAPE-winning employers are selected after a review of all safety and health policies, employee training programs and the employer’s record-keeping processes, as well as a review of the employer’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration log, which is used to document illness or injuries, and an inspection of the facil-ity and equipment.
Smith said now that a certain level of safety has been reached, he does not intend to stop pushing the importance of a safe workplace.
“We brought it up to a standard we plan on holding for the future,” said Smith, who manages 18 full-time employees and another 45 seasonal workers. “From this point, it should be maintenance.”
Most farms have at least minor safety problems, said David Wacker, the director of the Workplace Safety and Health Division within the Maine Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Standards.
“Farming, inherently, is just a dangerous job, whether it’s mechanical issues or ergonomic issues,” Wacker said. “The university really stepped forward and looked at all these things and corrected what needed to be corrected. We don’t give out these awards easily.”