Farm worker safety rules tabled

Alberta farmers have received a glimpse into what kinds of farm safety regulations may be introduced in the province.

The groups tasked with making recommendations on new occupational health and safety standards for non-family farm workers in Alberta released their report Oct. 27.

The report was in response to the province’s controversial Bill 6, the Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act.

The groups reviewed current health and safety codes and provided recommendations on how they should be tweaked to best accommodate both farm owners and employees.

As well, they provided a set of recommendations that inform general best practices for agriculture safety.

Provincial officials say they will consult farmers before making permanent changes, but the recommendations provide a glimpse into what might be potentially coming down the pipe.

For starters, the groups recommend that Alberta create a new farm safety association, which could comprise elected board members.

The association would help create guidelines and assist producers and their employees with applying codes and standards.

As well, they recommend creating a separate manual for farms and ranches and ensuring that guidelines are plain and easy to read.

Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier acknowledged the province hasn’t always been the best at communicating with farmers, citing issues when the government first introduced Bill 6.

“(Bill 6) saw our government learn some tough lessons,” he said during a news conference.

“These groups have been an important step in building relationships and ensuring all areas of the ag sector have a voice at the table.”

He said he hopes the recommendations ease concerns.

“We’ve gone a long way to do that,” he said.

“When I talk to farmers and ranchers, for the most part they don’t say, ‘we should do this and we shouldn’t do this.’ They say, ‘what can I do as a rancher to make this process that much easier.’ ”

That said, group members didn’t come to a consensus on all recommendations.

Key points of contention include whether or not all all-terrain vehicles and tractors should be equipped with protective devices and if ATV riders should require training. Group members in favour of those changes argued roll-overs are a leading cause of death on farms, while those opposed said there wasn’t enough evidence to prove that.

As well, the group said flat-bottomed grain bins shouldn’t be considered as a “confined space” because they have an entry door and generally have good airflow.

However, they had a difficult time coming to a conclusion regarding other grain bins. They said the bins can pose both high and low risks so farmers and employees should assess each bin on a case by case basis before they enter.

Other key recommendations involve building codes and how farm employers and employees should deal with chemical, fire and explosion hazards.

Group members concluded that older farm equipment that won’t meet new code standards should be exempt from requiring up-grades. For example, grain bins with ladders that aren’t shielded wouldn’t need to be retrofitted.

As well, they recommend that any new equipment bought when the code is in effect will be given a grace period of one year before they’re required to be up to standard.

While these safety standards won’t apply to family farms, group members suggested the government invite family operations to participate and have access to safety resources.

Carlier said he would support participation from family farm operators, if they choose to do so.

“If this raises any kind of awareness in those farming families to be more aware of safety, that’s a good thing,” he said.

“Farmers and ranchers want to have their operations safe. This gives them more tools to be able to do so.”

The full report can be viewed at www.alberta.ca/farm-and-ranch, and Albertans can submit their feedback at that website or by email at farmandranch@gov.ab.ca.

The deadline to submit is Jan. 15, 2018, and the government will draft regulations following that.

Producers with pay employees who are not family members are now expected to follow general safety standards, and they can be inspected by OH & S inspectors.

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