Alberta farm and ranch workers will be able to use older equipment and forgo the use of a seatbelt if it’s not practical under new rules that come into effect on Dec. 1.
The government passed legislation on health and safety for farms three years ago, but added farm-specific regulations Wednesday after concerns raised by the Opposition and some rural families.
Some of the changes include allowing the use of older equipment with procedures to ensure worker safety, the provision not to have to wear a seatbelt at low speeds and the ability to use a front-end loader to raise a worker if there’s no other option.
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“They reflect the need to balance health and safety while preserving the unique way of life on farms and ranches,” Labour Minister Christina Gray said.
The rules don’t apply to family members or volunteers, but do affect about 14,000 paid workers on 4,200 of Alberta’s 40,000 farms.
Farm safety rules have followed a long, twisting and controversial path since Premier Rachel Notley’s government passed the legislation in December 2015.
Known as Bill 6, it provides for workers’ compensation protection to paid farm labourers and mandates health and safety rules for farming operations.
The changes were initially met with protests on the steps of the legislature. Opposition members and some rural families said they feared it would strangle producers in costly red tape and end the farming way of life.
The government promised in 2015 that the farm-specific occupational health and safety regulations would be developed.
Albert Kamps, chairman of Ag Coalition — made up of 29 organizations that represent 97 per cent of the industry in Alberta — said the province has come up with common-sense guidelines for farms and ranches.
“Getting here wasn’t easy,” said Kamps, a third-generation dairy farmer. “We can all remember when Bill 6 was introduced.
“Thousands of farmers were worried because we don’t have a nine-to-five job. Instead, it’s our livelihood, it’s our family. We feel that our unique work environment deserves unique rules.”
Kamps said the new guidelines recognize that and provide practical feedback to how everyone can be safer.
The province said they believe they’ve struck the right balance after two years of consultations with the industry.
“Our government recognizes farmers’ ongoing commitment to safety,” said Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier. “These new OHS regulations ensure consistency for paid farm workers and support best practices that are already on place in many farms and ranches.”
He said the province will introduce a three-year, $6 million program this fall to provide farmers and ranchers with grants of up to $10,000 to help them improve farm safety.
In response to the NDP’s announcement on Wednesday, the UCP Caucus issued this statement:
“We all want to ensure safe workplaces across Alberta. Bill 6 has been a debacle from the start and farmers and ranchers across Alberta clearly recognize the NDP does not understand the realities they face.
“We will review the new rules announced today and consult with the people who are affected by the changes.
“The announcement today does not change our commitment to scrap Bill 6, it is clear Bill 6 needs to be sent back to the drawing board with proper consultation with farmers and ranchers from the start.”