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Safety council omits OHSA inclusion for Alberta farmers

EDMONTON (Canadian OH&S News)


EDMONTON (Canadian OH&S News)

Almost one year after the Alberta Farm Safety Advisory Council came together to brainstorm ways to improve the health and safety of farm workers in the province, its report was released to the public — and some labour groups are saying it falls short.

In mid-March, the results of the think tank on farm safety were released. In the report, council members — which consisted of a range of farmers and industry stakeholders — recommended four major measures that they say will directly and positively impact safety practices in Alberta’s agriculture scene.

As part of their recommendations, the farm safety group first recommended a strategic, province-wide co-ordinating body that will collaborate with agricultural health and safety groups to steer awareness, education, training and certification. The report went on to suggest the introduction of enhanced educational resources, training and certification, as well as an industry-wide recognizable establishment of best practices and safety guidelines. Finally, they recommended strengthening the resources of the Temporary Foreign Worker Advisory Office, in order to protect the types of workers which make up a large chunk of the agricultural workforce.

However, the labour groups in Alberta that have been lobbying for the inclusion of farm workers under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) were disappointed that the council members decided not to include farmers under that umbrella.

Currently in Alberta farmers do not fall under the act. Instead, they are protected under the Employment Standard Code for standard wage entitlement, parental leave, and termination pay and notice. As well, federal legislation outlines basic responsibilities which employers must comply with to protect their staffers.

Devin Yeager, who sits on the council and also serves as the national representative of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Canada, said that is not enough.

“It is a shameful decision,” said Yeager, the only labour representative who sat on the council, in a statement. “The recommendations regarding increased co-ordination, awareness, and education and training aren’t enough in themselves, because without regulatory enforcement under the OHSA, too many Alberta farm workers will continue to be victims of workplace accidents and fatalities…There needs to be OHSA protection for workers on all farms — not just a voluntary safety program for those employers who choose to participate.”

But according to the advisory council’s co-chair, Page Stuart, her and her fellow council members agreed from the get-go that they would work with an all or nothing policy.

“At the onset, all council members decided and agreed we would be governed as a consensus-based council,” explained Stuart. “Consensus was not achieved in discussions regarding legislation. All council members agreed there were specific priority areas that would result in positive outcomes to reduce farm injuries and deaths, and these are detailed in our recommendations.”

According to Canadian Agricultural Injury Reporting, almost 2,000 agricultural fatalities were reported in Canada from 1990 to 2008. Seventy per cent of those were machine-related, such as rollovers, run-overs and entanglements.

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