I have the good fortune of living and working in a rural community and I have also had the privilege of working with individuals and families whose livelihoods depend on farming and ranching. In addition to this, I am proud to be a member of a multigenerational farming family.
Over the years I have observed a trend in regard to farm related injuries and the economic and social ramifications for those who are not covered by workplace insurance. Needless to say, farming and ranching are labour intensive. The work includes a variety of repetitive tasks, risks and hazards. Most people who come to me for help after sustaining an injury do not have insurance. They often continue to work despite their injuries, making the injuries linger and worsen, resulting in permanent disabilities that eventually make it impossible for them to do ranch and farm work. In contrast, those with insurance coverage have a much better chance of recovery, as they are able to maintain a stable income and access rehabilitative services such as physiotherapy and chiropractic care.
Farmers and ranchers who are seriously injured spend more time in hospitals and long term care because there aren’t many options. Access to housing is often affected because many hired men and women, along with their families live on the farms where they work. For them, an injury can also mean a loss of housing. Farm workers paying rent or a mortgage are very vulnerable to losing their homes when injuries happen. Emergency social services does not have the capacity to support those injured for the full amount of time needed for recovery. In addition, there is usually a significant gap between what is provided and what is required to make ends meet. The stress that results takes a substantial toll on individuals and their families.
Farming and ranching are unique because for us it is not just a job, it is about who we are — whether we are working to maintain our own family farms, rich with historical and cultural meaning, or working on a farm to support ourselves and those we love. It has been my experience that when people are injured and cannot access the help they need to recover and adapt they lose a part of themselves.
The stress related to loss of income and loss of purpose combine to create feelings of hopelessness and helplessness that can contribute to a variety of psychosocial and emotional problems such as depression, anxiety, addiction and family violence. It is important to consider that in addition to the heartbreak they cause, social problems also come with a very large price tag.
The skills, dedication, hard work and determination of Albertans who work on farms is invaluable to the social and economic integrity of our communities, our province and our country. Alberta farmers, ranchers and farm workers deserve the safety net of insurance coverage that is already legislated in other provinces.