Excerpt from the OH&S Canada magazine

One of Ontario’s deadliest road accidents is turn the spotlight on how farm workers are transported to and from their jobs.

Shortly before 5 PM on February 6, 2012, a 15-seat passenger van carrying 13 migrant agricultural workers collided with a flatbed truck about 20 km north-east of Stratford, notes a statement from the Ontario Provincial Police. (OPP)

Ten workers and the truck driver were fatally injured in the crash, while three farm workers survived and were taken to hospital. Photos from the scene show the truck flipped upside down, well off the road, while the van came to rest against the house.

Police reported at a news conference on February 8, 2012, at the van ran a stop sign and the driver, 45-year-old David Blancas, was not licensed to drive a high-occupancy vehicle.

“The tragic fact of this investigation is that it was entirely preventable. This crash should cause all Ontarians to pause and seriously consider their own driving habits and immediately change them for the better,” said Chief Superintendent John Cain, Cmdr. for the OPP’s western region.

The driver of the flatbed truck had worked for Speedy Transport Group, Inc. in Brampton, Ontario, confirms CEO Jared Martin.

The farm workers in the van, ranging in age from 26 to 53, had just left a shift at a nearby poultry vaccination plant. The workers were employed by Marc Poultry & Vaccination Services, notes William Lin, a spokesperson for Ontario’s Ministry of Labour (MOL) in Toronto.

Stan Raper, National coordinator of the Agriculture Workers Alliance (AWA), says Blancas was a Canadian resident and the other workers were from Peru.

A statement, from Ontario’s ‘Workplace Safety and Insurance Board’ (WSIB) in Toronto, notes a special team has been set up to handle the incident, and the affected workers and their families will “receive the support and assistance they need.” This could handle funeral and burial expenses, financial support for surviving spouses and support for health care and recovery for the injured workers.

“Out of respect for the victims, and for all the men and women working in the agriculture sector, we will work to ensure that every factor in this accident is investigated,” assure Wayne Hanley, National Pres. Of United Food and Commercial Workers Canada (UFCW) in Toronto.

For Raper, this means that if a provincial coroner’s inquest is held, the use of 15-seat vans – which he argues should be eliminated – and the work conditions of migrant farm-workers must be part of the conversation.

“When you are a chicken catcher and inoculating 17,000 birds in a huge barn, by the time you come out of there, if you are not physically spent, you were doing your job,” Raper contends. “When you are fatigued, you make errors. A critical error, in this case, was made in a cost 11 people their lives.”

Less than two weeks after the deadly crash, the Alberta Federation of labour in Edmonton called for regulatory changes to prevent similar incidents in its home province.

An exemption to the ‘Use of Highway and Rules of the Road’ regulation under Alberta’s Traffic Safety Act allows agricultural, horticultural or livestock-raising workers to ride on regular seats in the boxes of pickup trucks and vehicles up to the size of a gravel truck, says AFL president Gil McGowan. Beyond ending the exemption, federation officials also want to use of 15-passenger vans banned.

“These vehicles aren’t good enough for our children and they aren’t good enough for her workers,” McGowan argues. “It’s time to take them off the road.”

My opinion

Again, we see issues with sub-standard care for migrant workers and the deaths that are part of it.

The provinces have had migrant workers working in less than stellar conditions and Ontario has to take the lead here and improve the migrant worker legislation. Right now, as of today, October 20, 2015, there is a supervisor of migrant workers convicted of criminal negligence charges in the Metron case. Too bad the government of Ontario will probably do something now instead of issues back in 2012. The Metron accident did not need to happen but did happen.

I was asked to complete Elevating Work Platform training for migrant workers from Mexico. Why did we not have workers in Ontario completing the demolition? The training was difficult and the workers (6 in all) had little English training and I had no Spanish training. Communication was a very real concern.  WHY?

My suggestion to deal with this type of concern is to have the government of Ontario take steps, such as those in the province of Quebec, to have Ontario workers, if qualified, do the work in Ontario instead of the large migrant workforce. We have been coached in the work-refusal process but I sure bet the migrants coming to Canada, would never even consider that.

We also have a new government at the federal level. I do hope Prime Minister to be, Justin Trudeau, sees the issues and places safety over the dollar and look to improve workers at federal undertakings. The standards are just not as high but could and should be.

Remember – In Ontario, “ALL Accidents are Preventable”

HRS Group Inc. has a great team that can help you with all your health and safety needs including ‘Due Diligence’ and ‘Standard Operating Procedures’. Contact Deborah toll free at 1-877-907-7744 or locally at 705-749-1259.

We can also be reached at info@hrsgroup.com

‘Work’ and ‘Play’ safe.

Daniel L. Beal
CHSEP – Advanced Level
VP & Senior Trainer
HRS Group Inc.