Talk must lead to action on farm safety

Toronto - March 10, 2014 – For Canadian Agricultural Safety Week – March 9-15, 2014, the Canadian Agricultural Safety Association (CASA) and the Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA) have set the theme as “Let’s Talk About It”. Yet, once again these two industry lobby groups have excluded from the conversation direct calls for legislative and regulatory safety provisions for the agriculture sector. It is a fatal and shameful exclusion in the face of the facts the industry and governments are well aware of.

CASA's own extensive report indicates that between 1990 and 2008 there were 1,975 fatalities in Canada's agriculture sector — an average 104 fatalities a year. In Alberta, despite 170 accidental deaths in agriculture since 1980, the government continues to ignore the 2008 recommendations of a judicial inquiry to implement Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) coverage and enforcement for agricultural workers. Alberta Premier Redford promised to do it, but she never followed up. The only action on the subject was her government's decision to stop collecting data on agriculture worker accidents and fatalities.

British Columbia's effort to ensure employers provide health and safety training for migrant agriculture workers has also been deficient. A recent study by WorkSafeBC, and Guelph and Sir Wilfred Laurier Universities revealed that over 70% of migrant agriculture workers receive no health or safety training whatsoever.

In Ontario, a UFCW Canada campaign led the province to extend OHSA coverage to agriculture workers in 2006. Yet, eight years later the government continues to refuse implementing specific agriculture regulations, like for other industries, covering hazards such as confined spaces, heat stress, and unguarded equipment. Over the same period, no Ontario agriculture worker has refused dangerous work and no wonder considering the lack of industrial regulations and enforcement to back up their concerns.

A legitimate agenda for addressing farm safety must include addressing the gaping legislative holes in the safety net for agriculture workers. Instead, for Canadian Agricultural Safety Week 2014 the industry continues to promote the notion that when it comes to safety, the industry should to be left to self-regulate. More disconcerting is that these self-serving industry efforts are in part funded by provincial and federal government money.

Canada’s agriculture safety organizations, as well as elected government officials, are clearly aware of the tragic statistics on farm deaths and injuries but just talking about it is not enough. What is needed is legislative action. Without legislative protections — and regulations that are enforced — efforts to prevent the hundreds of accidental deaths and thousands of injuries on Canadian farms each year will be just talk.

In solidarity,

Paul R. Meinema, National  President
UFCW Canada