Alta. farmers still uncertain over safety rules

These are the requirements that apply to farms with paid employees. They don’t apply to family members, neighbours or friends helping out:

Confusion continues over Alberta’s new farm safety rules, which took effect earlier this month.

The rules require farms and ranches with paid employees to follow a set of safety guidelines, as well as have coverage from the Workers’ Compensation Board, but some producers are still unsure about how they apply to their operations, said Jody Wacowich, executive director of AgSafe Alberta.

“I am concerned,” she said. “To me, the rules don’t seem so bad but I know it’s challenging to others.”

With AgSafe, Wacowich has been travelling around the province to explain the rules, offering workshops and connecting farmers with safety advisers. The advisers tailor safety plans for individual farmers so they know what to do.

But even with all that work, she believes more outreach is needed.

“One of the big questions has been, ‘where do I start?’ ” she said. “We’ve been telling them to reach out to our advisers.”

Along with having WCB coverage, the new rules, which took effect Dec. 1, address seat belt use, old-equipment sales and use, loader buckets, rollover hazard assessments, structure conditions and worker transportation on the farm.

As well, farms who employ people for 90 days or longer will have to establish some sort of health and safety committee or designate someone as a health and safety representative.

Having an emergency plan, as well as documenting accidents, equipment and structures, will be key. Checklists allow farmers or employees to do a quick inspection to ensure structures are sound and equipment is safe.

Essentially, farmers can use the lists to prove their farm was as safe as possible in the unfortunate event an accident happens.

“It is worth it,” said Hanneke Camps, who adopted the rules for her farm employees near Barnwell, Alta.

“At the end of the day, everyone wants safety for their family and it’s important to talk about safety, but I know some of my neighbours just have no idea of what they have to do to comply.”

Despite confusion among some, Labour Minister Christina Gray said she is pleased with the uptake in the number of WCB accounts opening.

She said the focus will be on educating farmers about the rules, rather than penalizing.

“The first step is not going to be punishing and fining,” she said in an interview. “We want to make sure all farmers and ranchers have the resources they need.”

The rules, she said, come down to ensuring employees know what their tasks are so they can execute their work safely. She said planting marigolds, for instance, doesn’t require steel-toed boots, but if someone is using a chainsaw, they better know how to use it.

“We’re going to be working with our partners to make sure there is education on OH&S (Occupational Health and Safety) compliance and that’s going to happen through working with AgSafe and talking to people.”

Camps, who employs five to 19 people depending on the time of year, said she has had no issues with the new regulations. In fact, it’s helped her reduce WCB premiums.

“We have been very safety focused,” she said. “Of course accidents happen and others have to do a better job of safety, but for our farm I feel confident we have no issues with the new regulations.”

Along with documenting everything, the main change she implemented was having an hour-long safety meeting before the big potato harvest, discussing potential hazards and past accidents. If workers feel unsafe or unsure, they are expected to speak with her.

“Writing things down is a culture change, for sure, and so is communicating more often about safety.”

Deb Pigeon, who helps run the Calgary Stampede OH Ranch, said while implementing the new rules can be overwhelming, they aren’t daunting.

Before the rule changes, the ranch already had a number of policies in place because it was associated with the Stampede.

“Once you get accustomed to it, it’s not as overwhelming as it was initially,” she said. “With the new legislation, people are going to have to look at safety closer. It’s not really an option anymore.”

However, potential changes in government are lingering in the back of farmers’ minds.

The United Conservative Party has previously said it would scrap the new rules. Wacowich said some are simply hoping the legislation will go away.

“We still need to work on safety and reduce fatalities,” she said. “We are one of the most dangerous industries and certainly we’re the only industry that brings our kids to work nearly every day.”

Others suspect, however, the rules will stay in place.

“We are the last province in Canada to have these farm and ranch safety regulations, and I think they won’t go away,” Camps said. “If anything happens, nobody will stop farming over this.”

Minister Gray said people can take advantage of grants to improve safety. The grants cover 50 percent of eligible safety expenses. It will either cover a maximum of $5,000 per year for three years or $10,000 over the life of the program per applicant.

Farm safety rules

These are the requirements that apply to farms with paid employees. They don’t apply to family members, neighbours or friends helping out:

  • Seat belt should be installed on equipment weighing more than 700 kilograms, but if they can’t then workers must drive slow to ensure safety.
  • Old equipment not up to code can still be sold or used and doesn’t need to be brought up to code.
  • Workers can be raised in loader buckets if other methods aren’t practical.
  • Rollover hazard assessments must be done, and rollover protective structures or other devices/methods must be used to ensure safety.
  • Workers can be moved in large loads under controlled conditions. Structures must be safe to enter and strong enough to support them.

Safety committee or representative rules:

  • Operations with 20 or more workers who are employed 90 days or longer must establish a health and safety committee. The committee must keep records of safety meetings and make safety-improvement recommendations to the employer.
  • Farms with fewer than 20 workers who are employed for 90 days or more must have someone designated as a health and safety representative. The representative is required to address complaints and carry out regular inspections.

Fatalities and injuries:

  • According to the province, after basic OH&S rules took effect in 2015, the farm fatality rate dropped by 24 percent.
  • Since that time, the injury rate fell by 21 percent. The serious injury rate reduced by 23 percent.

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