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Farm building rules getting a rethink

Alberta currently does not have a specified farm building code, but Manitoba may hold a lesson on what the future holds

Planning on building a barn or other farm building? Do you know all the regulations and standards that you are required to abide by?

If you don’t know, you may need to do some homework.

Thanks to the growing complexity of farm buildings, farm building codes have become a going concern among the insurance, design and financial industries, not to mention producers concerned about the safety and stability of their buildings. Right now, Alberta does not have a province-specific farm building code. Although the National Farm Building Code offers a non-mandatory “model code” which outlines baseline construction standards for farm buildings, Alberta has not adopted this code. Other safety codes, such as electrical, gas and plumbing, apply to all buildings on the farm, whether agricultural or not.

Provinces have the option to develop their own codes on top of the national standards. Manitoba, for example, has been proactive in developing its own regulations. Regardless of the status of farm codes in one’s province, most industry stakeholders agree that it pays to build to a standard that will best ensure safety for buildings, animals and farm employees.

The recent change to the NDP government in Alberta means it’s too early to determine if any changes will be made to farm building codes in the near future, says Shannon Greer, press secretary for the minister of municipal affairs and Service Alberta.

However, she suggests that the change in government could provide a clean slate for discussion of building codes.

“(Alberta Municipal Affairs) Minister (Deron) Bilous welcomes feedback and ideas from farmers and other stakeholders on current policies and regulations, and is looking forward to working closely with stakeholders on decisions related to public safety,” she says.

What is exempted?

The Alberta Building Code provides an exemption for most farm buildings, defined under the code as buildings of low human occupancy for the housing of livestock or the storage or maintenance of equipment, materials, or produce. In order to qualify for this exemption, the building must be associated directly and only with the farm on which it is located.

The exemption does not apply to farm buildings used for secondary processing, such as sales facilities for produce or those used to store, sell or repair equipment for other farmers. It also does not apply if the building cannot be classed as having low human occupancy.

Saskatchewan’s Uniform Building and Accessibility Standards Act takes a similar approach, although farm dwellings are exempted as well. However, just like Alberta, secondary agribusinesses do not receive an exemption.

Manitoba’s code

Manitoba has had its own farm building code since 2010, which is enforced by the office of the Manitoba Fire Commissioner. The code was developed partly in response to high economic losses on farms due to fires in recent years — more than $10 million in 2007 alone.

Its development was driven in part by concerns from the insurance industry, says Candace Russell Summers, chief building official for Manitoba’s office of the fire commissioner. It was also a reflection that farm buildings are becoming more complicated and by a greater awareness of the potential risk to farm workers.

“From our perspective, buildings have become more complex in their use and how they’re constructed,” she says. “We wanted to make sure there were minimum construction standards to ensure fire and life safety as well as the structure and integrity of the buildings.”

The code applies to all farm buildings 600 square metres in size or larger that are intended for the manufacturing and processing of products; storage and repair of machinery; or production of livestock or poultry. It is not intended for buildings under 600 square metres, pole sheds used for forage storage, grain bins or cattle shelters that are not barns.

“It does not apply to residential units, which fall under the National Building Code,” says Summers.

Under the code, plans and drawings for a building project must be prepared and submitted by a sealed architect or professional engineer.

“This ensures that these large, complex buildings are constructed in a sound way,” says Summers.

The fire commission has no data stating the extent to which the code has minimized fires and other damages, she added.

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