Monday, March 14, 2011

New farm safety advisory council named

Alberta has proven unwilling to extend basic employment laws--including health and safety protections--to agricultural workers. This is becoming a public-relations problem as Alberta is the last hold out province in the country and even judges (who typically stay out of policy debates) are now opining there is no justification for such an exclusion.

The government's most recent effort to address this issue is to create a Farm Safety Advisory Council. The government news release reads in part:
The new Farm Safety Advisory Council will work on ways to reduce injuries on farms and ranches, and advise the government on how to enhance farm safety education and training.

“The Council brings together individuals from varied backgrounds, who are known and respected in their field, and have a demonstrated commitment to farm safety,” said Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Jack Hayden.

“I know this well-rounded group will help us make significant progress toward the goal of reducing farm injuries without increasing the regulatory and financial burden for producers.”

Two observations are warranted. First, of the 15 members, 13 are employers, one is from government and one represents workers. Limiting worker representation to a single voice pretty much guarantees that the interests of workers will be overshadowed by the interests of employers.

Second, the government is clearly stating that it wants to reduce farm injuries. But it wants to do so without increasing the regulatory or financial burden for producers. Thus we return once again to the well of education and public awareness.

If the current state of injury in agriculture is unacceptable after years of such programming, isn't doing more of the same a recipe for failure--at least in terms of the goal of reducing injuries?

Perhaps that is, indeed, the purpose of such an advisory council. It creates the impression Alberta is doing something to reduce farm-related injuries and deaths without really changing anything. This is a neat (and cynical) bit of policy work by some Agriculture staffer. But will the families of farm workers who have be killed and maimed this year think so?

Update: A few minutes after posting this, a new article came across my desk: "Does the small farm exemption cost lives?" in the American journal of industrial medicine. The short version is that in states which do not enforce the national OHS rules on small US farms, the fatality rate is 1.6 to 3 times higher than in the small number of states where OHS rules are enforced. State-designed occupational safety and health programs do not seem to affect the outcome. This is more evidence that enforcement of safety rules appears to be an important component of injury reduction on farms.

-- Bob Barnetson

1 comment:

  1. I completely agree. The needs of farm workers have been overlooked for far too long.

    Being the sole voice on the council from a workers organization should be a very interesting experience. I would be very interesting in speaking with you further on this and other issues that affect farm workers both foreign and domestic.

    Could you please email me at

    Thank you