Furor gives way to compromise on farm safety rules

Farmers were outraged when Bill 6 was introduced in 2015, but years of talks have changed the situation

Too much progress has been made on workplace safety rules to go back to square one, says AgCoalition chair Albert Kamps,
seen here at a news conference with Labour Minister Christina Gray.
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It began with a firestorm but nearly three years on, the province’s move to impose Occupational Health and Safety regulations on farms is headed for a far different ending.

It would be a mistake to roll back workplace safety legislation, said Albert Kamps, a dairy farmer and chair of AgCoalition, an unprecedented alliance of provincial farm organizations formed when Bill 6 sparked angry demonstrations across the province in the fall of 2015.

“I think we’ve landed in a pretty good place,” Kamps said as he stood with the provincial labour and agriculture ministers to announce final details of workplace rules on farms.

“We’ve translated complex Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) rules to take everyone home safely at the end of the day. To take this all back would ruin a lot of consultation, because we’d be throwing out a lot of good.”

The evidence of the years’ long back-and-forth between AgCoalition and the province will be found in thousands of the cabs of tractors and other farm machinery.

First, farmers will still be able to operate (and sell) older models that don’t meet the latest manufacturing standards without having them certified by an engineer. Second, seatbelts will only be required when they can be practically installed and if not, farmers can comply with workplace safety rules by driving slower.

As well, there’s also a common-sense approach on what happens if nature calls while that machine and its operator is out in the field. (“A farming and ranching operation is exempt from the requirements of supplying toilet facilities where access to toilets cannot reasonably be provided,” the rules state.)

“These new guidelines are a result of farmers uniting together and providing specific facts,” said Kamps. “We worked hard to improve this consultation process and have our voices heard.”

But there are changes coming to farms when the new OHS rules take effect on Dec. 1.

The provincial document outlining “highlights” of the changes runs to 11 pages alone. It covers areas such as hoists and lifts; stair risers and handrails; fall protection and fixed ladders; decibel levels for continuous noise; inspections and maintenance of “powered mobile equipment”; rollover bars and structures; rules for riding on loads (on top of a load is not allowed and speeds must be under 10 km/h); and recapping needles. (The highlights booklet and other resources can be found at www.alberta.ca — search for ‘ohs farm’ and then click on “Occupational health and safety: Farm and ranch.”)

“In some instances, we’ve amended the OHS code to meet agricultural realities,” said Labour Minister Christina Gray.

The province will also give farms up to $10,000 each to cover the costs of complying with the new OHS rules — $6 million in total to be given out over the next three years.

The rules do not apply to family members or “volunteers” (such as neighbours helping out) and only affect operations with paid employees. There are about 4,200 such farms in Alberta, which collectively employ about 14,000 people.

Since similar legislation and rules were implemented in B.C., farm fatalities have dropped by more than two-thirds and injuries by more than half, Gray said.

Still, farming and ranching remain dangerous occupations. Since farm workers in Alberta were given workers’ compensation coverage at the start of 2016, there have been more than 1,860 claims filed.

The government is also providing funding for AgSafe Alberta, an industry-led farm safety group that aims to be the go-to place for health and safety education and training in the province.

The organization, which received startup funding from both producer groups and the federal government, offers safety training for individual operations, said Kent Erickson, the agency’s chair and a grain and cattle producer from Irma.

So far, that training has been conducted on more than 100 farms and ranches, he said. A farm visit and consultation can be booked at www.agsafeab.ca.

The website also has numerous resources, including “quickstart” guides to improving safety and safety training materials and videos (including haunting ones of Cyndy and David Eaton, a farm couple who both nearly died in farm incidents that occurred a decade apart).

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