Farm death sparks call for action

The provincial government came under fire in the legislature Wednesday for its lack of workplace safety laws for farm workers, the day after a feedlot owner fell from a silo to his death west of High River.

This is not the first farm death in the area. The 52-year-old man -- identified as Brian Morrison -- died at Roseburn Ranches on Tuesday, just a short distance from where one of his family's employees was killed in a silo two years ago.

Kevan Chandler, 36, died in June 2006 after being buried by an avalanche of grain at the Morrison family's nearby Tongue Creek Feeders.

Ever since his death, Chandler's widow Lorna has made it her self-described mission to push for workplace safety laws for farm workers. She said Tuesday this most recent death just goes to show how badly the Alberta government needs to take action.

"I thought they would have learned something or done something," said Chandler, 32, who works as a high school janitor in Black Diamond.

"I think they should get off their butts and improve the safety standards."

Alberta and Nova Scotia are the only provinces where workplace safety standards don't apply to farms. In Alberta, farm owners don't have to be part of the workers' compensation program, and the government doesn't have to investigate fatalities like it does for other industries. Farm workers are also barred from unionizing.

In Alberta last year, there were 12 farm-related fatalities, according to Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development. This year, including the most recent death in High River, the figure sits at four.

The opposition Liberals grilled Agriculture Minister George Groeneveld on the issue during question period Tuesday.

"Will this government finally concede that workers on corporate farms need the same protection through workplace safety legislation as other workers in the province?" Liberal Leader Kevin Taft said.

"How many farmers have to die in Alberta before this government takes action?"

Groeneveld said: "Farms are very unique worksites . . . families live, work, they play in these areas. We're talking about education, I suspect, more than rules."

He added that farms are dangerous places to work, but suggested that more rules aren't the answer. "We make seatbelt rules and look at what happens."

Later in an interview, Groeneveld said his government will have another look at the issue.

"A lot of these farms are big business now and they're corporate farms, and I will sit down with the minister of employment and immigration."

Regarding his comments in the legislature, Groeneveld added: "I'm certainly not against seatbelt legislation."

But those who have pushed for laws for farm workers say the government is unwilling to consider workplace safety laws for the sector, and promises to take another look at developing rules ring hollow.

"I will believe it when they actually do something," said Jason Foster, director of policy analysis at the Alberta Federation of Labour.

Shortly after Kevan Chandler's death in 2006, then-human resources minister Mike Cardinal said he would review whether workplace safety standards should be extended to farm workers. The NDP later obtained documents showing that Cardinal had rejected a recommendation from a government panel to do so, just weeks earlier.

Foster said the provincial government favours the interests of corporate farms rather than workers. Other provinces have been able to make workplace safety laws for workers at larger corporate farms without introducing onerous rules for family farms, he said.

However, Danielle Smith of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business said farms are different from other businesses, and tax incentives for purchasing safety equipment would be a better strategy for the government to pursue.

She said it's difficult to draw the line between a family farm and large-scale operations.

"When you've got this hybrid home/farm operation, it gets really tricky," Smith said.

In High River on Wednesday, family and friends were focused on their mourning for Morrison.

"It's very sad news. He was a great neighbour," said Mac Brocklebank, who farms near both Roseburn Ranches and Tongue Creek Feeders.

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Recent Farm Deaths

- April: A 52-year-old man is killed after falling almost 30 metres from a grain silo at Roseburn Ranches Ltd., just west of High River.

- March: A 52-year-old man, a resident of a Hutterite colony near New Dayton, southeast of Lethbridge, dies after becoming entangled in farm machinery.

- December 2007: Michael Collett, 46, dies while loading grain into a truck from a wooden bin on his farm, 12 kilometres south of Taber. He was buried under grain while working alone in the bin.

- June 2006: Kevan Chandler, a 36-year-old father of two from Black Diamond, dies after an avalanche of grain buries him inside a silo at Tongue Creek Feeders, a High River feedlot.

Calgary Herald, Thurs Apr 24 2008
Byline: Kelly Cryderman

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