HSAA calls for safety on Alberta farms to be improved

The following letter has been sent by HSAA Vice-President, Trudy Thomson, to the Ministers of Agriculture and Forestry, Labour and Justice regarding the death of paid farm worker Stephen Gibson and the need to improve safety on Alberta farms.

Dear Ministers,

The death of paid farm worker Stephen Gibson while at work in 2014 provides some important lessons that Alberta must not ignore.

According to the fatality report by Judge Anne Brown, Gibson had worked for 28 straight days before the accident, in which his clothing was caught in an unguarded power take-off, drawing him into an augur and resulting in his death. The dangers of fatigue are well known. Fatigue can lead to impaired judgement and concentration, slower reaction times and increased risk-taking behaviour.

It is also well known that farming and agriculture are dangerous occupations. The combination of fatigue from working long hours and weeks without any breaks and the danger inherent in agricultural operations is a recipe for accidents.

It is therefore the opinion of the Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA) that it is a mistake to exempt paid farm workers from new employment standards and provisions dealing with hours of work, rest periods and overtime in Bill 17, the Fair and Family-friendly Workplaces Act, as your government has proposed.

Paid farm workers deserve the same protection as all other workers in Alberta. They need the same mandatory time off and rest periods as all other workers in Alberta. Their lives are as important as all other workers in Alberta.

In her report, Judge Brown called for farm-safety training to be made a compulsory component of all post-secondary agriculture programs and for a compulsory regime of annual safety certification of farm equipment.

HSAA supports these recommendations and calls on your government to implement them as quickly as possible. As the judge notes, the farm equipment that Gibson was using was 40 or 50 years old and a safety guard had been removed.

HSAA members are called upon to deal with the results of accidents on farms. As Albertans and as health-care professionals, we have a stake in seeing the rate of accidents, injuries and fatalities reduced. Taking these reasonable measures to prevent worker fatigue, to improve safety education and to improve equipment safety will save lives and prevent injuries.

Sincerely,

Trudy Thomson
HSAA Vice-President