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Alberta Farm Safety Rule Changes Proposed


Written By: Eric Anderson, Nov 18, 2015
18 Nov 2015
Calgary Herald
JODIE SINNEMA

Farm safety breakthrough

Proposed rules to ensure safe workplaces, protect workers

New sweeping farm safety legislation proposed by Alberta’s NDP government will give farm and ranch workers the same rights and safety protection offered to all other workers in the province.
The Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act, tabled in the legislature Tuesday, will require all farms and ranches to follow basic occupational health and safety regulations starting Jan. 1, with specific details to be hammered out at five public town halls across the province in November and December.
Until now, Alberta has been the only province that doesn’t apply such workplace legislation to farms and ranches, leaving provincial investigators unable to enter farm property to investigate serious injuries, deaths or even complaints of unsafe work practices.
The new legislation will mean farmers and ranchers must provide safe work conditions and training to everyone doing any commercial work — not regular farm chores — on their property, including children, unpaid workers, friends and family.
“We want to ensure these devastating incidents do not go uninvestigated so we may better understand and help producers and the industry manage the risks related to farming operations,” said Labour Minister Lori Sigurdson, while visiting a large grain farm near Gibbons. “The people in this industry deserve our utmost gratitude and respect. They also deserve the same basic workplace protections enjoyed by workers in all industries.”
In 2014, 25 people died in farmrelated incidents, up from 16 in 2013 and 10 in 2012. Of the 25 fatalities, 12 were over the age of 65 and two were under 18 years old. For every fatality, there were 25 hospital admissions. Sixty per cent of the fatalities involved machinery.
The proposed bill will require Alberta’s 43,000 farms and ranches to purchase insurance coverage to protect workers if they’re injured on the job, and protect the operation if the farmer is sued. Until now, farmers could opt out, leaving about 60,000 workers without pay or access to health or physiotherapy benefits to get them back on the job.
“The important changes we’re proposing would give farm and ranch workers the duty to see what went wrong and prevent future incidents,” Sigurdson said. “We are proposing these changes because every worker in Alberta has a right to a safe, healthy and fair workplace.”
Under the proposed changes to various bodies of legislation, workers will have the right to refuse unsafe work without fear of being fired. Provincial investigators will be able to enter a farm site to do safety inspections and impose penalties. Workers will be able to join unions and bargain for wages, and they will be paid minimum wage, overtime and vacation pay. Such labour rights and employment standards will be hashed out for spring 2016 with room for some finagling.
“We know that harvest, for instance, does not fit neatly into an eight- hour day. And the calving season does not conform to a statutory holiday,” Sigurdson said. “We also know the farm and ranch industry is not the same as the oil and gas industry or any other industry for that matter. One size does not fit all.”

She said while farmers and ranchers need to follow occupational health and safety regulations starting Jan. 1, they will be given time to learn the rules, train their employees and come up to speed. No additional government money will be made available beyond the current budget.
Mike Kalisvaart, who has a 12,000- acre grain farm near Gibbons and purchases employment insurance for his eight workers, said the new legislation was long overdue. He suspects many farmers are scared of being overregulated and having inspectors on their properties.
“I think there are some compromises we’re going to have to make and accept some uncomfortable new rules, but the end result is that I think workers will have more protection and a safer work environment,” Kalisvaart said.
He said accidents will still happen. Children drown in swimming pools, despite lifeguards on duty, for instance. Legislation also wouldn’t have prevented the three Potts sisters from suffocating in a truckload of grain in central Alberta in early October, although inspectors would be allowed to investigate if Bill 6 is passed.
“It’s not going to prevent all injuries, but it’s going to make safety part of conversations in every farm in Alberta and that can only improve the situation,” Kalisvaart said.
John Bocock, an 81- year- old dairy farmer north of St. Albert, agreed.
“When people’s health is a concern, maybe it should be tough and ( you) put up with the intrusion into your privacy,” said Bocock, whose employee was covered by insurance about 10 years ago when a tractor rode over him. “I guess if the truth hurts, maybe it ought to.”
Grant Hunter, Wildrose’s jobs critic, said the legislation is being rammed in too quickly, without proper consultation. He said differentiated rules need to be made for small family farms versus large commercial operations.
Liberal Leader David Swann backed the legislation without hesitation.
“This is good for rural Alberta,” Swann said. “This is bringing Alberta into the 21st century.”
 
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Posted in Farm related news | Tagged with Alberta farm safety policy | More articles by Eric Anderson