Province taking wait-and-see approach to new farm building code

Farm buildings are generally exempt from the provincial 
building code, but that’s likely to change in a few years

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The growing complexity of farm buildings — not to mention the ongoing threat of fire — has attracted regulatory attention. However, Alberta does not have a specific farm building code nor has it adopted the federal National Farm Building Code.

The provincial government is waiting on the results of a new, planned federal code currently being discussed by code authorities before taking further action on farm building regulations. “The National Research Council and Canadian Commission on Building and Fire Codes is developing an updated national farm building code that can be adopted by provinces and is separate from the building code,” said Tim Seefeldt, spokesperson for Alberta Municipal Affairs.

“In other words, a province would not have to adopt the updated farm building code if it adopted the National Building Code. This updated farm code is anticipated for sometime around 2020 or later.”

Once the updated code is ready, it will go out for reviews.

“Any consideration of adopting a national farm building code or farm building requirements for Alberta would require review by stakeholders including farm groups, safety experts, municipal safety officials, industry, public representatives, post-secondary institutions, municipal associations, and the Safety Codes Council,” said Seefeldt.

Code offers farm exemption

The Alberta Building Code, a general code applying to all buildings, offers an exemption for most farm buildings, which are defined as having low human occupancy and used for the housing of livestock or the storage or maintenance of equipment, materials, or produce. The building must be associated directly and only with the farm on which it is located in order to qualify for the exemption.

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.

“Alberta’s safety code system exists to help ensure Albertans are safe in their homes and communities and relies on a collaborative approach involving extensive stakeholder input to provide the most effective and appropriate safety code system,” said Seefeldt.

Manitoba code rolled back

In recent years Manitoba has been proactive in developing a farm building code to augment the national building code. However, recent moves by the new Progressive Conservative government have sought to scale it back in order to decrease producer expenses and minimize “red tape.” Some of these changes include the curtailing of requirements for fire stops and employee exits.

Introduced in 2010, the Manitoba Farm Building Code was developed in response to high economic losses from barn fires in recent years as well as insurance industry pressure. The new approach, which saw the code repealed and filed under the Manitoba Building Code, was the result of long-standing tension between producers and the province’s former NDP government.

“They were simply adding paperwork and bureaucracy into a system that’s already overloaded with paperwork and bureaucracy,” Mike Teillet, Manitoba Pork’s sustainable development manager, said in an interview earlier this year.

However, others feel the scaled-back requirements will place farm animals at greater risk, especially when it comes to fire.

“It looks like it’s more positive for reducing red tape, but I think it’s at the expense of safety for the animals that are in these barn settings,” said Aileen White, deputy CEO of the Winnipeg Humane Society.

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