EDMONTON - Two men are dead after farm machinery they were transporting came in contact with an overhead power line Thursday evening.
Occupational Health and Safety sent investigators out to the accident, but they left shortly afterwards without conducting a full investigation. The deaths happened on a farm, and farms aren't covered under Alberta's workplace safety laws.
Alberta is the only province in Canada where farm workers are not covered in some capacity by workplace legislation.
Minister of Employment and Immigration Thomas Lukaszuk said agriculture is an unusual industry where home life and the workplace meet.
"It's an industry where often there is no payroll," he said. "It's an environment where people actually live."
He said that makes it difficult to enforce OHS laws, because you have to sort recreational accidents from work-related ones.
Lukaszuk said he looked at other provinces where such legislation exists and found it's rarely enforced. He said it's more important to get the industry on board with safety practices than to lay charges after injuries or deaths occur.
He said his department is consulting with people at all levels of the agricultural industry to find out what sorts of laws will suit everyone best, instead of putting blanket legislation in place.
Gil McGowan, Alberta Federation of Labour president, called the current lack of protection for agricultural workers outrageous.
"All these arguments about the family farm ring hollow," he said. "There was a time when Alberta's agricultural sector was dominated by small family farms, but that time has passed. The sector is now dominated by large, multinational companies. To say those companies should be given special exemptions because they're small farms is simply ludicrous."
The men who died Thursday were transporting a grain auger from a grain truck on a farm leased by B&R Ranch Ltd. near Meridian Street and Ellerslie Road. The machinery snagged an overhead power line and the men, ages 54 and 62, were electrocuted, police said in a news release.
In a typical workplace fatality, OHS investigators interview witnesses and gather evidence, reconstructing the incident piece by piece. If someone dies while using machinery, a stop-use order is often placed on the machine. Sometimes work is stopped on the entire site.
Once the investigation is finished, officials determine whether the occupational health and safety act was violated, and whether charges should be laid. The resulting employer and industry track records are searchable and available online at http://employment.alberta.ca/apps/er/ERSearch.html.
McGowan said without investigations and enforcement, there's no impetus for farm owners to enforce or adhere to safety standards.
"These ongoing exclusions send the message that farm workers are second-class citizens," he said.
The names of the victims are not being released.
Edmonton Journal, Sat Dec 4 2010
Byline: Conal Pierse