Alberta gov’t unveils new farm safety rules

The new rules, which go into effect Dec. 1, address seatbelt use, operating older equipment and conducting inspections

Alberta farms and ranches with paid employees will soon be required to follow a slate of new safety rules, some of which address using seatbelts, operating older equipment and conducting inspections.

The province announced the incoming changes last week in an effort to strike a balance between keeping farm workers safe while ensuring operators can practically abide by them. They don’t apply to family members or neighbours helping on the farm.

Starting Dec. 1, seatbelts will be required wherever possible for all equipment that is more than 700 kilograms. If it’s not possible to install them, the rules state farmers must use reasonably practical methods, such as driving slow.

As well, farmers will still be able to use or sell existing equipment even if it’s not up to the latest manufacturer code. This means farmers won’t need engineers to come onto their farm to write up safety manuals for old equipment.

The rules regarding seatbelts and old equipment were some of the main sticking points among producers last fall, which is when the technical farm working groups put forward recommendations for review.

“It didn’t make sense for us to bend on legacy equipment,” said Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier.

In fact, the contentious rules were years in the making. Following massive protests in 2015, the government did extensive consultations with groups such as the AgCoalition, which was established to provide advice on farm safety, to come up with changes that it hoped would ease concerns.

As well, AgSafe Alberta, a producer-led group, was developed to help farms get up to date on the incoming changes.

“We’ve landed in a good place,” said Albert Kamps, chair of the AgCoalition, who runs a dairy farm near Lacombe, Alta.

“There might still be sticking points among other farmers, but I fully support where we’ve landed with these common-sense suggestions and common-sense guidelines to use.”

Other rules state that farmers will be able to raise or lower workers in loader buckets in the rare case that it’s not reasonable or practical to use a machine for that purpose.

As well, producers using equipment weighing more than 700 kg will need to complete a rollover hazard assessment and either use a rollover protective structure or do other safe working procedures.

The rules said fall-protection equipment might not be practical or possible, so safe work procedures can be implemented in place of this.

Workers can also be transported on loads under controlled conditions. Their access to work areas must be safe, and structures must be strong enough to support them.

The province is providing $6 million over three years to help producers with waged employees adopt the new rules. It will provide up to $10,000 per person. More details on the program will be announced later in the year.

In terms of hazard inspections, farmers can conduct inspections whenever they feel necessary. Visual inspections before using equipment are good enough.

Farms that have 20 or more workers who are employed for 90 days or longer must establish a health and safety committee. The committee must keep records of safety meetings and can make recommendations to the employer on how they can improve safety.

Farms with fewer than 20 workers who are employed for 90 days or longer will be required to have someone designated as a health and safety representative. The representative will be responsible for addressing complaints and doing regular inspections to mitigate potential hazards.

OHS officers can be called to investigate a farm if a complaint is filed or if the farm reported a serious injury or death.

In the long run, OHS visits will be focused on farms with higher incidences of injuries and incidents. They will focus on compliance assistance and promote AgSafe Alberta resources.

Alberta’s United Conservative Party has vowed to scrap the farm safety legislation if elected next year, but that is something Kamps said he wouldn’t entirely support at this time.

“To roll this all back would need a lot of consultation because we’d be throwing out a lot of good with the bad,” he said.

“I would be against blindly rolling this back.”

The rules will apply to 4,200 of Alberta’s farms, which employ approximately 14,000 people. In total, there are about 40,000 farms in the province.

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