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Alberta premier wants more research on farm safety

By Amanda Silliker


lberta Premier Jim Prentice may consider extending occupational health and safety legislation to farm workers at large-scale corporate farming operations — but he is still unconvinced.

Speaking on a CBC radio show, Prentice said he needs to see more research and debate on the issue. Currently, Alberta is the only province to exclude agricultural workers from its occupational health and safety legislation.

Only operations that are involved in the primary production of agricultural products (producing crops, raising and maintaining animals or birds and keeping bees) are excluded. Those involved in the processing activities are covered by the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA). However, excluded farm workers account for about 98 per cent of Alberta’s farm workers, according to Statistics Canada.

There have been 306 farm-related fatalities in Alberta from 1997 to 2013, according to the province’s Farm Safety Centre. Labour groups have been trying to convince the government to amend the legislation for years, but to no avail.

“There shouldn’t be any industries exempted from basic workplace safety regulations. Period,” said Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan. “Agricultural workers deserve more than empty talk, they deserve action.”

New research from the University of Calgary might help their case. Students in Jennifer Koshan’s constitutional clinical class conducted extensive research of labour laws and found excluding workers — including agricultural workers — from occupational health and safety legislation violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“It means that they do not have a right to know about workplace hazards. They have no right to refuse unsafe work, and their employers do not have to ensure that their health and safety is a priority,” wrote Koshan’s students on the university’s faculty of law blog. “Overall, their exclusion from OHSA protection means that they are more likely to be injured or put at risk at work.”

Farm workers are faced with a variety of hazards, including hazardous chemicals, heavy machinery, long hours, physically demanding work, repetitive tasks and working alone.

To help reduce farming injuries and risks, the Canadian Agricultural Safety Association (CASA) has launched a new online tool that gives farmers an opportunity to express their concerns about possible hazards with farm equipment.

The “Speak Up For Safer Equipment” tool is intended to provide a way for farmers, manufacturers and standards organizations to talk about safety concerns with agricultural equipment manufactured within the past five years. Once a farmer has filled out the online form, CASA will review the safety concern and either forward the issue directly to the appropriate manufacturer or, if the concern is a universal issue, forward it to the CSA Group.

This article originally appeared in the December 2014/January 2015 issue of COS.

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