Agriculture Minister George Groeneveld says the government intends to act on a recommendation to include farm workers under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
The recommendation came from an inquest into the death of Kevan Chandler on a feedlot south of Calgary last year.
“The judge made the recommendation and it is our plan to find ways to carry this out in conjunction with Alberta Employment Minister Hector Goudreau,” Groeneveld said in an interview.
Including paid farm workers under the legislation has been a contentious issue among producer groups for many years. But it’s an issue whose time may have come as Alberta and Nova Scotia are the only provinces left that do not cover farm workers under occupational legislation.
“There will be no heavy hand of government regulators and inspectors as we believe that the best route will be through education and co-operation.”
“We intend to fully look at what is in place in other provinces in order to learn from their experience,” Groeneveld said.
Ongoing accidental death losses and injuries continue to bring the issue before the public eye and opposition parties have demanded that the government take steps to reduce the carnage by means of including farm workers under the legislation.
The provincial government has maintained that the issue remains complex because it is difficult to differentiate between unpaid family workers and hired help doing the same work.
Liberal opposition leader Kevin Taft says that the government is just using stalling tactics to delay including farm workers.
There is also the fear in the ag community that new worker legislation will see government inspectors dictating hours of work and conditions to everyone on the farm – families included.
“There will be no heavy hand of government regulators and inspectors as we believe that the best route will be through education and co-operation,” Deputy Agriculture Minister John Knapp said in an interview.
That’s an approach favoured by the Wild Rose Agricultural Producers. It has proposed that the government put into place an organization that will supervise education, training, and the promotion of farm safety. “It would be a similar organization to that has been in place in B. C. for many years,” said WRAP executive director Rod Scarlett.
Knapp says Alberta Agriculture has been active in the farm safety field for many years. “We have two full-time employees who are responsible for carrying out farm safety programs and we have also engaged private organizations to carry out promotion. But clearly with 160 farm-related accident deaths since 2001 more needs to be done.”
One concern is how to include Hutterite Colonies in any possible legislation. The lines between owners, family and workers is difficult to draw in what are very large commercial operations.
“ We know this is a difficult process and we intend to go forward but it will be in consultation with the ag industry,” Groeneveld said.
The present situation on commercial ag establishments is that owners cover their employees risk by means of liability insurance. However, that may not be sufficient as losses continue and lawsuits from injured workers and estates are dragged through the courts.