A provincially-backed farm safety council is expected to find ways to reduce the number of on-farm injuries in Alberta without adding more rules or more costs.
The Alberta government on Tuesday announced it will name a farm safety advisory council in the new year, to be co-chaired by “government and industry” with members from farmer, farm worker and farm safety groups and Alberta municipalities.
“This council will bring industry and government together to find ways to reduce farm injuries without increasing the regulatory and financial burden on our producers,” Agriculture Minister Jack Hayden said in a release. “We need to work together to find solutions.”
Once it’s set up, the province said, the council is expected to develop a “joint industry-government action plan” on farm safety for submission to Hayden and the government, addressing the “co-ordination and communication needs” that the ag industry noted in recent consultations.
That’s a reference to consultations by the province’s ag and employment departments in 2009 and 2010 with stakeholder groups, including “all of the major commodity groups,” on ways to enhance health and safety for people working on farms and ranches.
A report on those consultations put forward a number of recommendations for the province to consider — such as incentives for farms through lower Workers’ Compensation or crop insurance premiums, or increased grants to agricultural societies that undertake health and safety activities.
In Alberta, the report noted, most farming- and ranching-related operations are exempt from the province’s Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act, meaning there’s no formal OHS investigation of a farm fatality and no government investigation of on-farm injuries for purposes of improved safety practice or third-party reports for insurance claims.
Farming and ranching are also exempt from the Workers’ Compensation Act, and while Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) coverage for disability and insurance is available to farmers and ranchers for their employees on a voluntary basis, “costs limit subscriptions,” the report noted.
Also, the report noted, the province’s Employment Standards Code exempts farm workers from standards on hours of work, overtime, general holiday pay and vacation pay. Farm workers are also excluded from the Labour Relations Code.
The Alberta Federation of Labour on Tuesday criticized the province’s proposal for an advisory council as an “empty gesture,” with AFL president Gil McGowan predicting the council “will be an industry-dominated joke.”
“In the nine years the Alberta government has said it is consulting on how to improve safety for agricultural workers, 160 people have died on farm worksites,” the AFL said.
In his 2008 inquiry into a farm worker’s death in 2006 in a silo at a High River-area feedlot, Provincial Court Judge Peter Barley recommended the province lift its exemption excluding farms’ paid workers from workplace safety regulations.
“Rather than take that obvious and simple step, we have an industry-dominated advisory body looking at education measures,” McGowan said Tuesday. “This is what you get when governments talk only to the business community and not to workers.”
The labour group also scoffed at the notion that protections such as employment standards and OHS rules would punish family farms.
“Large agribusiness” dominates the industry, the AFL said Tuesday, with farms of over $250,000 in income accounting for three-quarters of farm cash receipts in 2007.