New farm safety rules 'useless'
Experts hit out at voluntary certifications
A provincially funded research body says a leaked proposal for voluntary safety certification of Alberta's agriculture industry won't curb the rising rate of farm deaths and injuries.
The director of the Alberta Centre for Injury Control and Research said Monday that his group's advice to a government-appointed committee - that the province impose health and safety regulations on farms like every other jurisdiction in the country - was ignored.
"Our input was based on the science but it wasn't listened to," U of A epidemiologist Don Voaklander said.
"These corporate farms, large feedlots and custom haying operations are no different than businesses that are drilling for oil or fixing your car. The agrarian myth of the rugged family farm just doesn't apply."
Recent statistics show 355 Albertans have died and 678 were seriously-injured in the past three decades. About nine per cent of the fatalities involved hired workers.
In a report obtained by The Herald and submitted to the province last February, the Farm Safety Advisory council recommended increased education and voluntary certification of farms to improve the industry's worsening safety record.
But Voaklander, whose centre depends on $1.5 million a year from Alberta Health, said a 2008 study of a similar program in neighbouring Saskatchewan found no significant difference in injury rates among participating farms.
"We're directed to be at arm's length from the government," he said.
"I mean I'm not going to go out and (criticize a minister or the government) ... but there's very little evidence that education of farmers actually works."
Premier Alison Redford promised during her Tory leadership campaign last fall that she would extend health and safety law protection to farm workers if elected, but on Monday her staff referred questions on the issue to cabinet.
With Agriculture Minister Vern Olson and Human Ser-vices Minister Dave Hancock both declining to be inter-viewed about a report they've been studying for nearly seven months, opposition critics hammered the Tory government for delaying while farm workers continued to be killed and injured on the job.
"It's immoral," Calgary Liberal MLA Dr. David Swann said.
"This government, whose voter base has been traditionally rural, is hard-pressed to put in place what they would call onerous rules but which are absolutely the norm in Western civilization."
New Democrat MLA Rachel Notley said it would be delusional for the government to accept the advisory council's philosophy that farm workers, particularly a fastincreasing number of vulnerable temporary migrants, can be educated to assert their right to refuse dangerous work.
"Premier Redford has capitulated to a strong conservative lobby within her caucus and without," Notley said.
Calgary Wildrose MLA Jeff Wilson said his party supports the council's call for farm safety education programs to curb the rising fatality and injury rate.
"We do believe the safety of those working on farms should be worldclass," said Wilson, "but we also don't want to add more burdens or complicated regulations to the farming community."
Calgary Herald, Sunday Sept 16 2012
Byline: Matt McClure