Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Research: Latino farmworker OHS in Saskatchewan

This week I finally got around to reading a dissertation from the University of Saskatchewan that examines occupational health and safety of Latino migrant farm workers. I’ve been looking forward to reading this for awhile.

The study entitled “Latino Migrant Farmworkers in Saskatchewan: 
Occupational Health and Safety Education and the Sustainability of Agriculture” examines the OHS training that these farm workers receive and considers the barriers that may exist to maximizing its effectiveness.

Language barriers, personal and cultural factors are identified as factors affecting safety training, with language barriers being identified by virtually every research participant (Latino workers, employers, bureaucrats, Canadian workers) discussing it. This barrier also affects migrant workers’ ability to access health care and causes social isolation, compounding the geographic isolation associated with prairie agriculture. And linguistic barriers can intensify the risk of hazards because workers may not be told about the hazard or control strategies and/or may not understand such information.

The nature of seasonal agricultural work may also be a factor. Such work is often difficulty and unpleasant. It is also often time pressured and hazard control strategies may be only partially implemented or ignored in the face of production pressure. Productivity can become the dominant value of all players—this is certainly something we see in Alberta with farms exempted from many of the work-time constraints that every other workplace must follow.

The researcher also considered aspects of the labour mobility programs that allow these workers to enter Canada. Specifically, labour mobility regimes may reinforce the focus on productivity at the expense of other considerations. Workers in such programs are profoundly vulnerable to their employers and resistance can result in being sent home or not rehired in subsequent years. This reduces the ability and willingness of workers to consider OHS issues or participate in training. Workers must also cope with social isolation and stress, which may reduce their ability to engage with OHS training.

English-language training that is focused on the circumstances of the workers and training on machinery are identified as two issues that require attention. This training is necessary to address unsafe agricultural practices that workers may have learned in their home countries (there seemed to be a gendered effect here). Adequate workplace support (including the availability of translators), changes in how contracts are structured, and a different approach to safety training (that engages the worker more fully) are suggested.

-- Bob Barnetson

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