The number of deaths is down from the previous year -- when 23 people were killed -- and below the provincial average of 18.
The figures come as industry awaits word on whether the province will rework its workplace safety legislation to include farms. A judge called on the Stelmach government more than a year ago to make the changes after a man died while cleaning out a grain silo at a High River feedlot.
Alberta's labour and agriculture ministers, who are reviewing an industry consultation on the matter, haven't said when they'll decide whether to make the changes, but signs are stacking up against the move.
Last week, Agriculture Minister Jack Hayden directed $715,000 to the province's farm safety programs -- an education-first approach the Alberta government has long championed over legislative change. The minister, who wasn't available for comment, told the legislature last week the government is "concentrating on reducing fatalities and injuries rather than regulating and legislating what takes place there."
Farms have been exempted from the Occupational Health and Safety Act since 1977, and in recent years, labour leaders have renewed the push to rewrite the legislation.
Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said it's frustrating the government has resisted the changes for so long.
"It's become clear the government doesn't plan to make any significant changes to the workplace rules, and that they, in fact, don't recognize this is a serious problem," McGowan said.
Eric Musekamp of the Farmworkers Union of Alberta welcomed the drop in 2009 fatalities, but said he hopes the figures won't be used as a political ploy by the government to avoid crafting new workplace safety laws. "My discomfort is from thinking the government is going to trumpet this as some sort of success," Musekamp said.
"Farm workers suffer mightily from the exclusion. I intend to keep chewing away at it, and I'm hopeful we can impress upon the government they need to do this thing."
The 2009 farm-related fatality figures were compiled by the provincial medical examiner's office for Alberta Agriculture, and haven't yet been finalized.
In 2008, Alberta saw deaths on farms spike to 23, including six children.
Laurel Aitken, a provincial farm safety co-ordinator with Alberta Agriculture, said 2008 was a "really tragic year," particularly considering the number of children killed, and said Alberta has been working hard to keep farms safe.
"We have a lot of resource development we do. We spend quite a bit of effort on awareness and doing campaigns to bring safety front of mind for people," she said.
Last week, Liberal MLA Bridget Pastoor grilled Hayden and Employment Minister Thomas Lukaszuk in the legislature over when the government will move on the provincial judge's recommendations.
Lukaszuk said the Stelmach government is committed to farmer safety, but suggested industry will have to "wait and see," whether any action will be taken.
Calgary Herald, Tues Mar 23 2010
Byline: Jamie Komarnicki