Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Farm safety report recommends status quo

Yesterday, the province released the report of the Farm Safety Advisory Council’s report, more than a year after it was submitted to the government.

The government has accepted all of the recommendations in the report. This is not surprising since the recommendations are basically status quo statements developed by a committee dominated by agricultural producers. The strategies include focusing on (demonstrably ineffective) education and safety certifications (a style of programming the Auditor General has criticized in other industries). Basically more of the same that we already know doesn’t work.

This week happens to be agriculture safety week in Alberta and there were a couple of statements in the house around farm safety. David Swann’s statement yesterday is worth reading as it highlights one of the ironies of agricultural safety in Alberta: farm animals have more safety rights than farm workers:

Dr. Swann: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. This is Agricultural Safety  Week, and we’ll no doubt see some celebrations by the  government, but this Premier’s promise to address the unjust and unsafe working conditions for paid farm workers, including  children, remains another promise unfulfilled. Ironically, Alberta’s  farm animals will be celebrating their 30th anniversary of  legislated health and safety standards, Mr. Speaker: animals with  legislated health and safety standards, the strictest farm animal  care legislation in North America. For example, it’s illegal to  carry farm animals in an open pickup truck in Alberta, but farm  workers? Not a problem. Politically motivated exemptions for industrial farming  operations for occupational health and safety, workers’ compensation, and child labour legislation are appalling to conscientious  Albertans, as they should be. This discrimination leaves workers  and their families at peril and transfers, according to the most  recent Alberta statistics, $374 million for farm injuries over the  past 20 years onto the health care budget instead of costs being  borne by the agriculture industry through WCB, as is mandatory  for all other industrial operations. Now there is the much-touted social policy framework from a  minister who formerly, as child and family services minister and  Health minister, took no action on unregulated child farm workers  and safety standards for agricultural operations. His glossy  brochure calls for all Albertans to be “Safe, Healthy, Secure and  Resilient”; that is, unless you’re a paid farm worker. Small  wonder that this government and this framework are viewed by  most Albertans as all about political spin. Agriculture workers,  including children, deserve the same rights as every other worker. Agricultural Safety Week: only the farm animals have anything  to celebrate.

-- Bob Barnetson

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