Navigating Alberta’s new safety rules

Farmers, we get it.

Whenever a new agriculture-specific bill is adopted, you rightfully ask: “how does this apply to me?”

Rarely are there easy answers, especially when they come in the form of legislation that is long, wordy, and, let’s be honest, not that fun of a read.

A recent example of this is the Alberta government’s Farm Freedom and Safety Act (FFSA), which came into full effect on Jan. 31. The FFSA brings in new rules and regulations regarding insurance coverage, who is considered a worker, and farmers’ rights and responsibilities to their employees.

But, what does that mean in practical terms? Where does one go to get this information?

AgSafe Alberta has 26 crop and livestock producer groups as members, and its goal is to help farms establish practical farm safety management systems.

Here is what we at AgSafe see as the major changes in the new FFSA legislation.

One major change is that for farms with five or fewer employees, Worker’s Compensation Board coverage is now optional. Although it is no longer mandatory, this does not necessarily mean that WCB coverage is something that farmers should ignore. The reality is that not having insurance coverage means that if an employee gets hurt on your farm, they can sue you.

Under the new legislation, it is also important for farmers to know who is considered a worker. With the new regulations, a farm worker is considered someone who is not a family member, a volunteer (a neighbour or a friend), or a contractor. Therefore, exclusively family run farms are not considered to have farm workers.

With the right approach, this legislation does have the potential to bring more freedom of choice for producers regarding how they want to develop the safety program on their farm.

AgSafe Alberta wants to help make these options clear and ensure that farmers know their rights and responsibilities when it comes to insurance, employment standards and Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) rules.

Family farms are still exempt from any OHS requirements, although we do encourage farmers to consider implementing safety measures, even if it’s not mandated by law.

Farms with non-family waged workers will be required to follow the Alberta Occupational Health and Safety Act but will be exempt from the regulations and the code.

Applying the best safety management practices can be a proactive way to prevent incidents on your farm and to create the documentation needed if OHS visits your farm due to a complaint or incident.

AgSafe Alberta has just released the new and improved Alberta FarmSafe Plan. This manual and accompanying workbook are starting points to develop your own health and safety management system catered to your own operation. The workbook and manual are there to help establish guidelines on-farm for a more efficient, effective and safer workplace.

As the new FFSA legislation emphasizes, each farm is unique, and a customized safety plan is needed to meet the needs of each individual operation.

The FarmSafe Plan is customizable to any farm’s needs and includes electronic courses for employees to take.

Farm safety legislation can be difficult to manoeuvre, but with the right tools, it can create and enhance a culture of safety for your employees and family.

We are here to help you make that happen.

Jody Wacowich is the executive director of AgSafe Alberta.

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