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On-farm occupational health and safety

Some of these rules apply to your farm. Find out what you need to know

If you employ anyone other than family on your farm, you need to know that provincial occupational health and safety rules apply to you.

Some farmers believe that they are exempt from these rules if they aren’t enrolled in Workers Compensation, or if they are purely a family farm with one or two employees. This is generally not the case.

In Manitoba, a “family farm, where there is no formal employer-employee relationship is treated differently, we don’t get too involved in that,” says Michael Van Kats, of the Workplace Safety and Health of the province of Manitoba. “But if it is a corporation where employers are being paid, or a small farm where employees are being paid, we treat them no differently than any other employer in the province.”

The same goes in Saskatchewan and Alberta. As long as you are paying employees you are an employer and are subject to the occupational health and safety rules of your province (see the proviso about Alberta below).

“The number of employees isn’t a factor,” if you have one or 40 employees you now have an employer-employee relationship and the act applies to your operation,” says Van Kats. Many small operation farmers do not realize this likely means to them.

Mission zero in Saskatchewan

“In Saskatchewan, there is legislation and an act that covers occupational health and safety,” says Kim Meyer, of the Occupational Health and Safety Division of the Government of Saskatchewan. Employers and employees both have duties and responsibilities (though employers hold most of the responsibility because they control the worksite). “Occupational health and safety regulations touch on almost all aspects of the workplace,” says Meyer, from things like first aid to training to proper exposure to chemicals and more.

Saskatchewan’s Work Safe Saskatchewan has “mission zero” as its mandate. This means a goal of zero safety incidents, making sure that all employees go home safely each night. Work Safe Saskatchewan also has information and educational tools online, as well as training courses for employers. As an employer, it is your responsibility to report any incidents to the occupational health and safety departments for your province; you can be fined if you don’t.

“Under the act and regulations, we call them dangerous occurrences. If something happens that could have caused the death or hospitalization of a worker for 72 hours or more, that’s considered a reportable incident,” says Meyer. This means if you have a close call on your farm, you are legally obligated to report it.

Saskatchewan’s regulations include a list, says Meyer, of things that fall into this category, including electrical contact, chemical exposure and overturning of equipment. You must know that you can be prosecuted for failure to report incidents, says Meyer. The Saskatchewan Employment Act includes a fee structure, with a range of under and over $4,000, depending on the offence. However, but the department doesn’t automatically fine employers that aren’t in compliance, says Meyer. That’s a decision the Ministry of Justice makes on a case-by-case basis.

Safe Manitoba

In Manitoba, Workers Compensation and Workplace Safety and Health work together closely, says Van Kats, through Safe Manitoba (safemanitoba.com). Safe Manitoba helps employers remain in compliance with provincial legislation. On Safe Manitoba’s website, you can click on the “Agriculture” link to find information specific to farm businesses. You’ll read a lot of information on farm safety, including a bulletin on flowing grain entrapment, which has caused injury and death on Manitoba farms. You can also get “Danger” decals from Safe Manitoba to show people that there is hazardous potential, make sure that people required to enter the bin use “a body harness connected to a lifeline, secured to the outside of the bin,” and much more.

The website also includes information about Manitoba legislation requiring that any tractor “manufactured after Dec. 31, 2000 and used exclusively for agricultural work” be equipped with a roll-over protection structure, a seat and a seat belt.

Safe Manitoba says that while “you may be tempted to build it yourself,” they advise against that because it wouldn’t be engineered and tested properly, and there could be legal consequences if it doesn’t work and someone is injured or killed.

These are just a few examples of keeping your farm safe. The onus to know about and follow these rules falls on employers.

Present-day Alberta

In Alberta, farming and ranching operations used to be exempt from Occupational Health and Safety laws but as of January 2016, farming and ranching operations are included under the Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act, says Lauren Welsh, communications officer for Alberta Labour. This means “waged, non-family farm and ranch workers” are now covered under the act, bringing “Alberta in line with other Canadian jurisdictions.”

These changes brought a lot of media attention to farm safety regulations in Alberta. “Alberta was the last province to extend basic workplace health and safety protections,” Welsh says.

You can be fined in Alberta just like in the other provinces, and if a serious injury or fatality occurs, Alberta Justice may become involved and could “consider laying changes,” says Welsh.

Alberta farm employers are responsible for taking steps to ensure a healthy and safe workplace. Workers can refuse unsafe work. In Alberta, OHS staff can investigate serious injuries and can inspect your workplace after a compliant has been made.

Alberta has created technical working groups; these groups are making recommendations about how occupational health and safety standards can be applied in the agricultural sector. Until this process is finalized, the OHS Code as it exists today will not apply to farmers, says Welsh. But it is still up to you to know what is required. Look to Farm Safe Alberta and farmandranch.alberta.ca for more information.

Across the Prairies

The legislation in the three Prairie provinces is in place to ensure safer workplaces. This can include, for example, proper training for workers. If something was lacking in that training “we would issue an improvement order, which would compel the employer to set up a training program and ensure workers are properly trained so they can safely work with that machinery,” says Van Kats.

In cases where an imminent risk is perceived, “we could issue a stop work order” until the issue is resolved (for example, until training is completed or until machinery is guarded properly, until the underlying issue is address). Farmers that are uncooperative, for example not addressing a problem that has arisen, can be fined, and ultimately prosecuted under the act, though, “fortunately, that’s very rare here for farmers so far,” says Van Kats about Manitoba. In Manitoba, “penalties range from $1,000 to $5,000 and are reserved for cases of willful, severe, or repeated non-compliance,” according to the government’s website.

“The more information we can get out the better,” says Meyer. “It’s awful if you find out the rules after the fact when we’re doing an inspection.” Remember it’s up to you as an employer to be well informed. Look up your province’s specific act and make sure your farm is a safe working environment for everyone.

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