Alberta urged to compensate farmers to make up costs of health and safety rules

By Dean Bennett
The Canadian Press

An Alberta government panel is recommending the province subsidize farmers and ranchers to offset costs of new occupational health and safety rules.

The panel said the long list of requirements in the occupational health and safety code, “when added up, may be significant for some and may be perceived as overwhelming or unrealistic.”

It recommends several suggestions including GST rebates, and government grants.

Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier and Labour Minister Christina Gray released the panel’s report on Thursday, but they aren’t responding to the recommendations yet.

Carlier was asked if such a subsidy would be fair if it is not offered to other industries.

“Every industry is different,” said Carlier. “Even the crop insurance, the farming insurance, right now is subsidized in Alberta. That could be a fairness issue as well.”

Gray said the government has been reviewing the reports for almost seven months and is now seeking public input for the next 11 weeks, with regulations to be drafted after that.

The panel recommendations include:

Employers must establish emergency evacuation plans.
Employers must apply a reasonably predictable standard for safeguards to prevent a worker from falling into bins or hoppers.
If a hazard assessment indicates that personal protective equipment is required, the employer must ensure that the worker is trained to use it.
Employers are to provide appropriate equipment that will help workers lift, push, pull, carry, handle or transport heavy or awkward loads.
Any machine that may cause injury must have protective barriers.
Scaffolds must comply with industry safety standards.
There must be written policy and procedures on potential workplace violence.
A worker must not ride on a tongue or drawbar connected to equipment in tandem, or a bucket, forks or other equipment that pose a risk of injury.

There is also a proposal on washrooms for those working in the fields. The recommendation is to let nature take its course, as it has for generations.

“The norm in such instances is to perform functions otherwise appropriate for toilet facilities in the great outdoors,” read the report.

The panels could not come to a consensus on whether seatbelts are necessary, given the need for safety versus the needs of multitasking.

They also couldn’t agree on whether farmers and ranchers need to wear safety vests or whether roll bars or other safety devices should be mandatory on ATVs.

The proposed changes are embedded in almost 200 pages of technical and legal detail that Gray herself says requires cross-referencing with occupational health and safety codes and legislation in order to fully comprehend.

Gray said while those documents are available, her department will soon be coming out with a summary for Albertans that will make all the changes and implications crystal clear.

“I’m committed to making sure that Albertans are able to fully participate in this and provide feedback because that is why we’re here today, to engage with Albertans,” she said.

Carlier admitted that past government communication and outreach on the farm safety legislation have been problematic.

There were protest rallies at the legislature when the legislation was passed in late 2015, with critics saying the rules would prevent family members from helping on the farm and would leave the farm way of life flailing in red ink and red tape.

“Our new government learned some tough lessons,” said Carlier.

© 2017 The Canadian Press