Category Archives: Justice

Lost in translation


I was pretty shocked to see this set of notes in a public washroom at the University. Who bags their poop? Is this really an issue? But relatedly (since we are talking about it), if only poop and toilet paper go in the toilet, WHERE DOES PEE GO? This will require more (and sturdy) bags.

Where does someone get the idea to bag and dispose their poop anyway?  If you’ve never traveled more distantly, it might seem like using water to flush human waste into sanitary sewers is a universal, and that combining pee, poop, and toilet paper with 5 gallons of water is just the obvious way to do things.  BUT(T)… this isn’t the standard everywhere.  Even some places where water is used, used toilet paper is not thrown down the toilet, but stored in a garbage can and incinerated, composted, or landfilled. That would take some getting used to if you are in that scenario for the first time, just like throwing toilet paper down the toilet for the first time must seem like a wasteful example of poor water stewardship.  So… if you’re in a situation where everything is already different and people are dealing with waste in a way you’ve never seen or heard of, you need to be prepared to adapt and keep up with local customs.  University of Saskatchewan has lots of international students, so ostensibly there are some people adapting to customs that are new to them.

With that in mind, enjoy the Uni-approved sign below, found inside the door of public washrooms.


TOILET PAPER ONLY.  If that is all that goes in, then poop needs to go somewhere.   Really, we should feel lucky that shit was in a bag.

Workplace protection for children


“Our kids died living life on the farm. It is a family farm. We do not regret raising and involving our kids… on our farm,” he read. “It was our life.”

Combine emptying into a grain truck
Combine emptying into a grain truck.The grain pours out really fast, and the combine will be completely empty in a just couple of minutes.

This week 3 sisters died by grain engulfment in rural Alberta. This is undeniably terrible for their family, their community, and agriculture in general. This is also not a surprising nor unheard-of event, grain engulfment is a widely-acknowledged hazard in agriculture and transportation industries, and there are multiple campaigns to help workers stay safe during grain loading. Simply described, grain engulfment is drowning in grain, not being able to breathe or to free yourself from the heavy grain on top of you.  It can happen if you get stuck under an auger, behind a grain dump truck, or if grain stuck to the side of a bin comes down on top of you. This is not a peaceful floating-off kind of death, but rather several minutes of pain, choking, and struggle.

A combine emptying into a grain truck
A combine emptying into a grain truck

For this type of catastrophe to happen to kids is heartbreaking because it is predictable and preventable.  This has happened before many times, and just as before, the media is not doing a safety-oriented job of reporting it.  The Marshfield Clinic guidelines for reporting farm injuries and fatalities are clear, but see if you can spot where the narrative of this story deviates from the ideal:

  1. DO use the word ‘incident’ rather than ‘accident’
  2. DO describe the safety violations or prevention measures – this gives a fighting chance at a prevention message along with the catastrophe
  3. DO depict farming as an intense, high-risk industry
  4. DO emphasize the adult’s role in prevention
  5. DO NOT describe children as ‘loving to help’ – this gives the impression its OK to let children into industrial zones and near high-risk tasks
  6. DO NOT describe incidents as ‘completely unpredictable’ or ‘freak events’ – everyone should be aware of the hazards and risks of farm machinery, tasks, and environments
  7. DO NOT suggest that unsafe practices are ok because they are a ‘tradition’

Responding on the news story to a commenter that questioned having children around the workplace, Bott wrote: “This is our life. It is not sterile like city life.”

Many of the quotes and even the articles themselves seem to glamorize the earthy virtue of farming, without much critical thought around how this could be prevented. I understand that reporters are reluctant to criticize parents ‘when they are down’ and already grieving a terrible loss. However, I don’t think things can really get much worse for those parents no matter what is written, and I’m sure they would want other parents to avoid the type of grief they are going through. So reporters: don’t hold back!  Tell the safety story and ask experts for prevention quotes so that readers are left with a sense of purpose, not only a sense of loss.

I did find one article which addresses safety and the responsibility of adults here (in metro of all places).  I hope some folks hear the message and take action to prevent child deaths on farms.

Seen in Vancouver

All of these are so West Coast: some for being left, and some for being seen in December. Not pictured: in December along 7th Ave I saw a HUMMINGBIRD eating from a FLOWER. Oh Vancouver.

Flowers in December!
Flowers in December!
More flowers (camelias?) in December!
More flowers (camelias?) in December!
Dragonboats on liquid water through a flowing tree- on NYE (Vancouver FTW!)
Dragonboats on liquid water through a flowing tree- on NYE (Vancouver FTW!)

These next photos come from a Canadian Labour Federation campaign on fairness and reducing inequalities. Some stats might make more sense to you than others, but overall it is pretty refreshing to see fairness in place of product advertisement.

Daycare and
Daycare and living wage

Res water quality
Res water quality


Death from falling

A recent news item in SK outlines the death of a 54-yr-old man after falling off a roof he was working on. He was not using fall protection, there were no railings, and no other safety precautions taken. What a waste, and what a sad time for his family and friends.

The literary definition of ‘Tragic’ is not just something really, really sad, it is the inexorable progress towards a unhappy end that could be stopped, but the characters do not have the foresight to choose a more auspicious destiny.

I will write here the same thing I tell my Occupational Health students:

  1. Even falling from 2m can break your spine or cause a fatal head injury
  2. Fall arrest harness, railings, and hole covers required whenever there is a risk of falling >2m
  3. If you see someone working at a height without fall protection, you can make an anonymous call to Sask OH&S: 1.800.567.7233
  4. Contact numbers for BC are found here

Don’t feel guilty or ‘naggy’ about calling.  You might be saving someone’s life, and saving their family from a tremendous hardship. You can be the force that takes them off their ‘tragic’ path towards an untimely end.

…and I promise you will feel much better than if you had not called and someone fell.


Safety in the Media 2

Crappy photo of the letter in the paper
Crappy photo of the letter in the paper

Remember the photo of the kid wandering through the farm machinery?
Well, my colleagues and I wrote a letter to the editor, as did our counterparts at the University of Alberta. You can see it at the Western Producer online or see it in context in the pdf on pages 12-13. Researcher advocacy, woot woot!

You can learn more about the media’s role and responsibility in farm safety from the Marshfield Clinic’s media guidelines.



Safety in the Media

The Western Producer is a Western-Canada farming newspaper with articles on all kinds of things: livestock exhibitions, commodity price forecasts, weather, resistant crop varietals, recipes, and even health and safety on the farm. A recent issue had the image above as a front cover.  Notice anything?

Health and Safety folks will probably notice that this includes a person standing on the top of a step ladder and probably some other more minor contraventions of ‘best practice’.  However, the most glaring thing is the unattended toddler wandering through an active industrial worksite.  No one would feel comfortable with this kid in a steel mill or a construction site, but somehow a barn or Quonset makes it feel ‘homey’ and ‘rustic’ and somehow ok. Unfortunately, farming environments have a huge risk of injury (even compared to steel mills and construction sites!), and kids under 7 are at the highest risk.  Now that you know that, does the picture seem cute or just unsettling?

Happy Women’s Day!

Shout out to all the fiesty ladies out there making the world a better place. Here are some inspiring faves.

Frida Kahlo, original badass
Frida Kahlo, original badass
Jessica Yee, Social Justice Bullshit Challenger
Jessica Yee, Social Justice Bullshit Challenger
Aung Suu Kyi, seemingly gentle but unyeilding in the face of oppression
Aung Suu Kyi, seemingly gentle but unyeilding in the face of oppression
Angela Davis, here dropping truth bombs
Angela Davis, here dropping truth bombs
Rosalind Franklin, contributing to Nobel-prize-winning work (even if her name will never appear on it)
Rosalind Franklin, contributing to Nobel-prize-winning work (even if her name will never appear on it)

Economic Squeeze in Agriculture – the case for OH&S

Creature, commodity, charcuterie, and overhead.

Globalization is so great for so many things.  I really like eating fresh oranges and lettuce in the winter, and the sheer variety and quality of food we eat is a testament to the enormous infrastructure, logistics, and effort involved.  However, the same agriculture and food systems which allow for this variety can also make each individual producer vulnerable.   Although I grew up in the Fraser Valley with myriad market veg and fruits, Saskatchewan is far more driven by commodities.  Be it meat or grain, it tends to all be produced the same way with minimal variations in quality,  so barring any difficulties in transportation, tarrifs or  import procedures, the prices are the same market-wide.  This is why wheat is often the example commodity in introductory microeconomics classes: a consistent product allows for perfect competition between many producers.  However, given that the cost of production can vary in different areas, this means the invisible hand starts to squeeze producers with higher overhead costs.

Good rainfall in Saskatchewan matched with drought in the midwestern United States has meant that the Saskatchewan grain crop is good while the dearth of US production drives the price of grain up… good for Sask grain farmers!  However, these same conditions have proved very difficult for Saskatchewan meat production.  Animals eat grain, and more costly grain here means more overhead.  Unfortunately, the price of pigs has not followed the price of grain, and so pig farmers take a loss on every animal sold, resulting in one large Sask pork producer going into receivership.  Last month in Manitoba this situation took a far more dire turn, as 1300 weanlings were euthanized because (at the end of the day) it cost more to feed them than farmers could recoup through sales.  The saddest part (besides allegation of animal suffering and cruelty)  is that pigs killed in the barns cannot be butchered or sold, and can’t safely be eaten locally, so the whole thing is a waste of life, protein, or grain, depending on your perspective.  Smith says that the invisible hand should work it all  out so that pig farms will only exist in places where grain is predictably cheap and overhead is low… although these are often also places where worker safety is low, animal rights are minimal, and food safety regs are less stringent.  Doesn’t sound like a win to me.

The silent loss here could definitely be worker health and safety – either because workers loos work or job security, increase casual work or unpaid overtime, and because the economic squeeze creates an incentive to cut corners when it comes to health and safety.  Why should one prioritize health and safety in hard times (or good times, for that matter?)  It comes down to a simple business principle:

Profit = Revenue – Loss

Loss can come from:
  • Elevated Workers’ Compensation rates
  • Sick leave and absenteeism
  • Worker turnover
  • ‘Presenteesim’ (low productivity from folks that show up hurt)
Musculoskeletal injury increases all of these.  Lots of attention is paid to the production and revenue side of business performance, and generally less on less on OH&S.  But at the end of the day, both can increase profits.   In the face of short term annihilation, long-term prevention and even WCB insurance rates can slip off the radar.  However, in the long- and short-term, profit loss is profit loss no matter where it comes from, so OH&S should remain a priority and a business performance measure.  In the face of economic uncertainty and low morale, a critical workplace incident/injury can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.