Opinion: What does Alberta’s Farm Freedom and Safety Act mean for you?

Insurance, employment standards and OHS compliance are three areas producers need to consider

Family farms remain exempt from OHS requirements, but farmers are encouraged to consider implementing safety on their farms.
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Farmers, we get it.

Whenever a new agriculture-specific bill is adopted, you rightfully ask, ‘How does this apply to me?’

Rarely are there easy answers, especially when they come in the form of legislation that is long, wordy, and, let’s be honest, not that fun of a read.

A recent example of this is the Alberta government’s Farm Freedom and Safety Act, which came into full effect on Jan. 31. The act brings in new rules and regulations regarding insurance coverage, who is considered a worker, and a farmers’ rights and responsibilities to their employees.

But, what does that mean in practical terms? Where does one go to get this information?

Look no further, AgSafe Alberta is here to help.

Led by a supporting membership of 26 crop and livestock producer groups, our goal is to assist farming operations in establishing practical farm safety management systems. A major part of this work involves supporting producers in navigating how things like the Farm Freedom and Safety Act will impact you and your workers. As a farm owner, operator, or manager, we appreciate that knowing how legislation can affect your farm and your employees is a difficult task to manage on top of the day-to-day tasks of actually running a farm.

As your go-to source for safety, here is what we see as the major changes in this now-in-effect legislation.

One major change with the new act is that for farms with five or fewer employees, Workers’ Compensation Board coverage is now optional. Although no longer mandatory, this does not necessarily mean that it is something that you should ignore. The reality is that not having insurance coverage means that if an employee gets hurt on your farm, they have the option to sue you and bring on a costly lawsuit to your operation.

Another major portion to navigate is knowing who is actually considered a worker.

Under the legislation, a farm worker is considered someone who is not a family member, a volunteer (such as a neighbour or a friend), or a contractor. Therefore, in the case of exclusively family-run farms, they would not fall under the category of having farm workers on them.

With the right approach, this legislation does have the potential to bring more freedom in choice for producers regarding how they want to develop the safety program on their farm. AgSafe Alberta can help make sure that these options are clear and that you know what your rights and responsibilities are when it comes to insurance, employment standards and OHS rules.

Family farms are still exempt from any OHS requirements, although we do encourage you to consider implementing safety on your farms, even if it’s not mandated by law. If you have non-family waged workers on your operation you will be required to follow the Alberta Occupational Health and Safety Act but will be exempt from the regulations and the code.

Applying the best safety management practices can be a proactive way to prevent incidents on your farm and to create the documentation needed if OHS visits your farm due to a complaint or incident. This is where we can help, too.

AgSafe Alberta has just released the new and improved Alberta FarmSafe Plan. This manual and accompanying workbook are a starting point to develop your own health and safety management system catered to your own operation. The workbook and manual are there to help establish guidelines on farm for a more efficient, effective, and safer workplace.

As the new farm workplace legislation emphasizes, each farm is unique, and a customized safety plan is needed in order to meet the needs of each individual operation. The FarmSafe Plan is fully customizable to your needs and includes electronic courses for employees to take as well.

Farm safety legislation can be difficult to manoeuvre, but with the right tools to understanding it, it can create and enhance a culture of safety for your employees and family.

We are here to help you make that happen.

Jody Wacowich is the executive director of AgSafe Alberta.

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