Farm groups plan to lead the way on workplace safety

With Bill 6 consultations drawing to a close, AgCoalition aims to ‘show the world’ how to make farms safer

Now that the province’s Bill 6 consultation process is nearing an end, what’s next for the unprecedented coalition of Alberta farm groups?

“The AgCoalition was initially set up to advance a safety culture, and yet it got embroiled in a consultation process that it didn’t really have a lot of time or purchase for,” said Gord Winkel, the group’s interim executive director.

“So now that we’ve done our good work on the consultation side, let’s start focusing on the safety side and continue to move forward on those progressive fronts.”

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The Alberta Agriculture Farm and Ranch Safety Coalition was an “unprecedented thing” when it formed in January in the wake of the Alberta government’s fast-tracked Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act. The 29 farm groups in the coalition represent 97 per cent of the agriculture industry in Alberta.

“We got together and said, ‘In the face of challenge, there is an opportunity,’” said Winkel. “This good work in the face of that challenge led to a fairly major amendment (exemptions for families under the act.)

“While that did keep frustration to a fairly manageable level, it still was not a great place to be for everybody involved. It looked like a lose-lose from many respects.”

When the government said it would create six ‘tables’ to recommend specific workplace rules and regulations, AgCoalition put forward over 50 names — with 23 chosen to be among the 72 people on the six committees.

Now the focus is shifting back to developing ‘leading practices’ for farm and ranch safety.

“The way through this is to take charge,” said Winkel. “You can take charge of your sector. You can take charge of your future by basically determining to lead with how things are represented rather than waiting for others to do it to you.

“If you don’t do it your way, it will get done to you.”

In many cases, Alberta’s agriculture industry is already doing “really great work” in terms of safety, he added.

“We don’t have to invent anything,” said Winkel, a well-known safety expert in the mining and oil extraction sectors.

“In the safety field, one of the things we’ve always been good at is sharing. You know research and development? In the safety field, it’s called rip off and duplicate.

“If we can now build on that great work and have it then shared and adopted throughout the agricultural sector, we will see significant improvement.”

That will mean changing some commonplace work practices, but the key is to have “a unified voice,” he said.

“Then, when you speak as a sector, it carries with it the credibility and force of an industry.”

AgCoalition’s member organizations have all made a commitment to advance the safety culture on Alberta farms and will be working with their members in coming months to shape what that looks like.

“AgCoalition is a bold, bold move by an industry to take leadership, and if we stay true to the course, it will be a vehicle that advances safety cultures across all of our industries,” said Winkel.

“It’s rooted on the basis of believing in safety and in our lifestyle. It very much says that we are willing to change and to innovate and that we are accountable for safety performance.

“We’ll show the world how to get it done — and we’ll get it done the agriculture way.”

About the author

Reporter

Jennifer Blair

Jennifer Blair is a Red Deer-based reporter with a post-secondary education in professional writing and nearly 10 years of experience in corporate communications, policy development, and journalism. She's spent half of her career telling stories about an industry she loves for an audience she admires--the farmers who work every day to build a better agriculture industry in Alberta.

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