The electrocution of two Edmonton- area farm workers last month has raised demands for improved worker safety legislation.
The accident, which occurred when the workers were moving a grain auger and made contact with a power line, has been investigated by Alberta Municipal Affairs. But Eric Musekamp of Bow Island, head of the Farm Workers Union of Alberta, said the accident should have been investigated by Occupational Health and Safety (OHS). That couldn’t happen because the agriculture industry isn’t covered by the OHS Act.
This accident brought back to light the summer electrocution of Foremost farmer Cole Dixon. In an August 20 letter to Musekamp regarding Dixon’s death, Thomas Lukaszuk, minister of employment and immigration, said most farming and ranching operations are exempt under the OHS Act, which means OHS officers don’t have the authority to investigate farm-related incidents.
“The exemption precludes applying any section to farming operations, including Section 38 of the act, about calling for an inquiry,” said Lukaszuk.
However, Municipal Affairs requires that all incidents related to overhead power line contacts be reported to an administrator for the electrical discipline or a safety codes officer.
“We investigate an accident to determine exactly what happened, how the accident occurred and any factors that contributed to it,” said Pierre McDonald, chief electrical inspector with Municipal Affairs.
“The ultimate goal is to help ensure such an accident does not happen again.”
Calls for farm safety legislation in Alberta won’t help farmers and ranchers and their families and workers, said Rod Scarlett, executive director of Wild Rose Agricultural Producers (WRAP). Farmers and ranchers can purchase Workers Compensation Board coverage for their workers or private insurance, Scarlett said in a telephone interview from Edmonton.
But too often, an accident happens because a producer or worker was doing something he should not have been doing, and that shows a need for more education about farm safety, rather than legislation, he said.
“The farm safety record in Alberta with no legislation is little different from other Canadian provinces which have enacted farm safety legislation,” said Scarlett. “Legislation and exemptions are really not the issue. The industry must learn to spend more time and training on farm safety issues. The problem is that farm safety training is far down the agriculture agenda.”
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF WILD ROSE AGRICULTURAL PRODUCERS