1. This means you
If you have employees, your farm falls under the provincial occupational health and safety legislation for your province. Each province has slightly different rules, but this is the law and if you are not in compliance you can be fined. You could even be sued, though that would come from the individual employee rather than the government.
“The most important thing to know for farmers is that this does apply to them,” says Kim Meyer of the Occupational Health and Safety Division in the Government of Saskatchewan. And, in Saskatchewan, these laws apply to family members if they are getting paid.
2. There may be inspections
Occupational health and safety workers do “proactive inspections” says Michael Van Kats, with Workplace Safety and Health in the province of Manitoba. That’s the same in Saskatchewan and Alberta. This means, similar to the restaurant industry when regulators can do spot check visits to make sure a restaurant is working in compliance with food safety rules, farms where there are employees may get a visit from a regulator checking out farm safety protocols. These regulators do not just respond to calls of non-compliance.
In Alberta, the rules are still being worked out since the inclusion of farming and ranching is new, so at this point “officers will only visit a farm or ranch if they are responding to a complaint or investigating an incident,” says Lauren Welsh, communications officer for Alberta Labour. This may change.
3. Incidents mean investigations
It isn’t just spot checks. Occupational health and safety officers also respond to serious incidents in the workplace, says Van Kats. If a complaint is registered on your farm, or an accident happens, regulators will visit and assess the situation. The provincial offices receive phone calls and emails about unsafe work conditions and will respond to those calls.
In Saskatchewan, “we have a program of targeted employers,” says Meyer. They will visit employers who might have been flagged due to injury rates.
4. It’s for a good cause
The main goal of the occupational health and safety departments is to help ensure that all workers go home safely at night, says Meyer. On the “Farm Safety” section of the government of Saskatchewan website, some facts about farm safety are outlined, noting that “on average, 13 people are killed on Saskatchewan farms each year,” and more are injured. Seventy-five per cent of those injuries “involve machinery such as grain trucks, semis, tractors, and combines.” Youth are often involved.
As an employer, you are responsible for providing a safe work environment. There is much that goes into this. Some starter information can be found at Farm Safety Guide on the government of Saskatchewan’s website (saskatchewan.ca/farmsafety).
5. Training is available
Usually some segment of the province or another group, like Safe Manitoba, will offer workshops to help you understand your responsibilities. For example, Safe Manitoba offers “Prevention Basics” as a starter. It outlines the 11 required elements of a safety and health program in the workplace.
The Saskatchewan Safety Council has OATS (Online Agricultural Training System) that talks about safety on the farm. Work Safe Sask also provides training programs for supervisors, which can provide a good overview of regulations. Industry organizations also have safety groups that offer educational opportunities.
Farm Safe Alberta is a good starting point for Albertans. “It’s incumbent on the employer to know and learn the laws that are in place,” says Meyer. You can look to the legislation online, and you can call the provincial offices and duty officers can answer specific questions. The training sessions would also be helpful as a starting place.