My AgSafeBC Story


Mark Thompson

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“During those early ears the leaders in B.C. agriculture came to accept the need and utility of health and safety regulations, and embraced the need for training of their workers and managers. FARSHA proved that labour and management could work together in this common cause, even in an industry where workers had not been organized previously or are today.”

I think of FARSHA, now AgSafeBC, as the little association that could. We were the first safety association linked to the Workers Compensation Board (WCB) and a model for a few others. There are lots now.

I became involved by accident, fitting for a safety association. I was a governor representing the public interest with the WCB. I was also a professor at UBC and I had written a thesis about farm workers.

WCB had the task of preparing occupational health and safety regulations for the agriculture industry. WCB Board of Governors chair, Jim Dorsey asked me to head the committee that was charged with drafting the regulations. We worked for several months with workers' representatives and the grower community using examples from other jurisdictions, research from other areas and the experience of our committee members. We were supported by a very capable secretariat led by Rex Eaton.

Initially, there was strong opposition from some sectors to having regulations, but some far-sighted officers of the BC Federation of Agriculture (BCFA), as it was then, supported having an association from agriculture to assist in administering the regulations. That was the agreement with the WCB.

I expected that a statesperson in the community would step forward to lead the association, but no one did. I assumed that my role would end when the draft regulations were passed by the Board, but with no one stepping up, I felt that I had a moral obligation to see that we had an association to fulfill the WCB part of the bargain. Thus, I became the founding chair of the board.

Representatives of the BCFA and the Canadian Farmworkers Union (CFU) formed the first board of directors - a tri-partite structure of labour and management and a neutral chair. Our board represented the various sectors and worker communities of B.C. agriculture. I learned a lot about chairing a tri-partite organization from them.

Bruce Johnson was our first employee and general manager. Bruce proved to be a dedicated manager who related well to all of the players in agriculture. We implemented safety training programs and consultants in various regions of B.C. After 2-3 years, we had a good team. I think our employees were proud to work for an organization that tried to improve the lives of farm workers.

Looking back on FARSHA, I treasure the friendships I had with board members and others and FARSHA changed the narrative about health and safety in agriculture. During those early years the leaders in B.C. agriculture came to accept the need and utility of health and safety regulations and embraced the need for training of their workers and managers. FARSHA proved that labour and management could work together in this common cause, even in an industry where workers had not been organized previously or are today.

Personally, I am proud to have served the parties as chair of the board. It does not seem possible that 25 years have passed since we started FARSHA, now AgSafeBC.