March 24th, 2019

Farm safety law won’t kill Alberta agriculture

By Medicine Hat News Opinon on July 5, 2018.

Two years after the Alberta New Democrats announced new farm safety legislation, cows are not wearing hard hats and the sky has not fallen.

That’s according to a farm and ranch industry coalition involved in fitting occupational health and safety standards to the special case of agricultural production.

That also stands in stark contrast to a groundswell of opinion about how such safety laws would affect the sector.

Two years after the issue erupted in mass protests outside consultation meetings across the province, the catchphrase of the new regulations going into effect on Dec. 1 appears to be “when practical to do so.”

Some highlights:

Bathrooms — “Operations are exempt from … supplying toilets where … access cannot reasonably be provided.”

Vehicles — Workers may stand on truck beds moving slower than 10 kilometres per hour on generally flat ground, but not on loaded bales. Use seat belts when practical and always on provincial highways.

Biohazard — Workers may re-cap needles when they are so designed, but not waste needles.

Equipment maintenance — A non-certified, but “competent” person can maintain equipment. Manufacturers’ standards need to be met, but safety must be considered when modifications are made.

This is hardly groundbreaking stuff, in any other industry in Alberta, or on farms elsewhere in Canada.

In fact, you can still lift a worker in a loader bucket, which would send safety inspectors in any other industry into a tailspin.

Now, are we to believe that our stalwart farmers will complain about having to put a roll of toilet paper in the glove box?

Not all the standards are so minor. There will be costs, and paper work, and time commitment.

If a ranch has more than five workers, one must be a safety liaison. With more than 20 workers you need a safety committee. But, it’s hard to argue there’s an undue burden on Ma and Pa when Ma and Pa have 20 people on the payroll.

Yet the underlying tension has always been how small producers would be affected, and the storyline from producer groups and opposition parties has been this spells the end of rural way of life.

That’s obviously a concern, but also more than a little patronizing.

Any farmer who’s still doing business on the back of a napkin, without the benefit of a good lawyer, or with 50-year-old machinery, won’t be farming for very much longer.

That’s not the government’s doing. That’s the nature of the business, any business.

Small operators have been pressed to get bigger and smarter for several decades now. It was happening well before a Supreme Court struck down the long-standing Alberta farm exemption from safety standards leading to the new regs.

That also means the United Conservative Party will have a near impossible task ahead of them to make good on a promise to repeal them.

The Alberta farm community is no doubt strong enough to incorporate a legal requirement for safety into its operations.

Albertans generally don’t like increased regulation, bristle at the idea of inspections, and downright hate paper work.

But they’re quite capable of providing a safe worksite as defined by these regulations.

Several times now, reporters at this paper have listened to agriculture ministers defend the acumen of farming community during press conferences.

“It’s a way of life and business, but it’s still a business,” Oneil Carlier told a major city columnist in one memorable exchange.

Sad as it may sound, that’s also how the industry promotes itself.

Alberta’s agriculture sector, it is often said, is ready to meet the growing needs of an increasingly complicated world with hard work, good stewardship and honest practice. How is this any different?

(Collin Gallant is a News reporter. To comment on this and other editorials, go to

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