Compulsory farm safety training advised

An Alberta provincial court judge recommends that farm safety training be made compulsory in all post-secondary agriculture programs and that the government develop a compulsory regime of safety certification on farm equipment.

The recommendations stem from a public fatality inquiry following the death of Stephen Murray Gibson on Jan. 31, 2014. He was killed in a power take-off at Hamilton Farms near Cochrane, Alta.

Judge Anne Brown made the recommendations in a May 8 ruling on Gibson’s death. The government made her report public June 29.

Gibson’s death occurred when he and his employer, Robert Hamilton, were processing grain through a roller, which involved use of an auger to move the product. When the auger plugged, Gibson first shut off the p.t.o. attached to the tractor, cleared some of it by hand and then restarted the p.t.o. and tried to further clear the blockage.

“Before Mr. Hamilton’s horrified gaze, part of Mr. Gibson’s clothing caught on the unshielded p.t.o. and drew Mr. Gibson into the machinery, killing him instantly,” the report read.

Gibson, 46, was an experienced agricultural worker with 23 years of work history on cattle ranches in Canada and Australia. He had been working at Hamilton Farms for about three months when the incident occurred.

The report noted the p.t.o. did not have safety shields at the time Hamilton bought it from a neighbour.

During the second day of the fatality inquiry in 2014, the Alberta government passed the Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act, which came into effect Jan. 1, 2016. It entitled paid farm workers, as Gibson was, to protection under the Occupational Health and Safety Act and to workers compensation.

“Alberta Agriculture and Forestry has considerable educational and training resources for promoting safety on farms and ranches,” Brown said in her report.

“But use of such resources is still largely elective, except to the extent that OHS and WC compliance now requires it.”

The judge went on to make the two recommendations, noting they may require a “cross-ministry initiative” to implement in post-secondary programs.

Annual safety certification of farm equipment, including p.t.o.s, may also involve the labour department, the judge said.

Canadian agricultural industry reporting indicates p.t.o.s are the most common equipment involving entanglement fatalities. In Alberta, they were responsible for nine of the 29 on-farm deaths between 1990 and 2009, according to provincial statistics.

On June 29, the same time that the Gibson fatality report was made public, Alberta Justice Minster Kathleen Ganley announced a tracking system for fatality inquiry recommendations.

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