Rural communities to weigh in on details of farm and ranch workplace laws
As the Alberta government sets up consultation tables for farm and ranch workplace legislation, it is unclear how and when the process will unfold.
In the meantime, Alberta’s Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Oneil Carlier, told the Calgary Journal in January that Alberta’s farming community can learn a lot about existing farm safety regulations, employment standards and labour relations from our neighbouring provinces.
“That’s going to be part of the mandate of one of the consultation tables, is to look at best practices in Alberta and best practices right across the country,” Carlier said. “We are not just going to cherry pick any province, we are going to look at them all.”
Saskatchewan has had farm safety standards for many years, and looking at these standards may help Alberta’s farmers during this transitional phase.
Harvesting wheat in Saskatchewan. Gif courtesy of GIPHLY
Farm life in Saskatchewan
Growing up in rural Saskatchewan, farming has been a part of Dylan Doehl’s whole life. Since he was 12 years old Doehl has been helping out on family and neighbouring farms.
He learned from a young age that hard work and dedication get things done, but he also took some risks growing up on the farm.
“Once it came to harvest time I would drive the grain truck with a hockey stick because I couldn’t reach the foot pedals,” Doehl says of his early days as a farmer.
Now 23-years-old, Doehl works full-time on a Saskatchewan grain farm. Although he is motivated with his lifework, he recognizes the dangers farming presents.
“I think I’m young and I can do anything I want, I’m invincible type deal... and what worries me I’d say, about my job is that exactly,” Doehl says.
He is afraid of taking an unnecessary risk that could paralyze or severely hurt him, preventing him from working.
“I couldn’t end up providing for my family or anything like that. Just taking a stupid risk,” Doehl adds.
The Saskatchewan government long ago recognized the dangers of farming. While farm workers’ insurance has remained optional in the province, Occupational Health and Safety Regulations have been in effect there since 1996.
The Saskatchewan Employee Act applies to farm and ranch workers, including requirements regarding safety, employment standards and labour relations.
In comparison, Alberta recently passed its Bill 6, enhanced protection for farm and ranch workers, which has been in effect since Jan. 1.
Now, farm and ranch workers—who aren’t relatives of the farm owners— have to follow basic safety standards, and must be registered with the Alberta Workers’ Compensation Board by April 30.
Farm workers are now eligible for workman’s compensation benefits, as other Alberta workers have been for decades.
Dangers of farming
The dangers and risks of farming are similar in all provinces—machinery being the most common factor causing injury or death. In 2012, 70 per cent of injuries on farms involved machinery according to the Government of Alberta.
In 2014, eight of 17 farm related deaths involved machinery according to the Alberta Government. The rest of the deaths involved falling from heights, being struck by a falling object, chemical toxicity, all-terrain vehicle (ATV) rollovers, or animal hazards.
According to the Government of Saskatchewan, an average of 13 people are killed on farms each year, and 75 per cent of these deaths involved machinery.
Last year by Burstall, Sask., a young boy and his grandfather died from suffocation in the back of a grain truck, according to CBC news coverage.
In spring of 2014, Doehl ended up in the hospital after an accident involving an auger (a machine used to transport grain). He was cleaning the equipment when the switch was accidently flipped on to empty out the grain. His arm got stuck inside the auger and he had to get stitches up his arm. Doehl admits that is one of the least safe things he has done so far.
However, Doehl says he has learned from his mistakes and he feels safe in his workplace. He and his boss are the only ones who handle the heavy lifting or anything dangerous, and they take every possible precaution.
“We always make sure we know where the other person is,” Doehl says. He adds that people should listen to safety standards, instead of taking risks.
Auger in action at an unidentified farm. Gif courtesy of GIPHY
Farmers are NOT against safety
Bill 6 frenzied Alberta farmers late last year, after they felt they weren’t consulted in the process. While the Alberta government made workman’s compensation board registration mandatory, there are many more regulations that need to be decided.
The consultation tables are currently being formed, and will be composed of members from the farming community to advise the government as it fleshes out the details of Bill 6.
Kevin Auch, an Alberta grain farmer and chairman of the Alberta Wheat Commission (AWC), says safety is important to farmers and it was the process of how Bill 6 unfolded that surprised them.
“Safety is very important to us,” Auch says. “So when farmers are against a process that we feel is bad, that doesn’t mean that we’re against the end goal of safety...
our families want to see us at the end of the day.”
The Alberta Wheat Commission and other agricultural associations have submitted representative nominations to the Alberta Agriculture Farm and Ranch Safety Coalition, or AgCoalition, to help establish who exactly will participate at the consultation tables.
The AgCoalition was created Jan. 22 to represent the individual farmers and ranchers during the Bill 6 consultation process. Some of its members include: Alberta Beef Producers, Alberta Canola Producers Commission, Alberta Hatching Egg Producers, Alberta Seed Growers Association and the Hutterite Standing Committee.
After meeting with Alberta’s Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, Hon. Oneil Carlier, AgCoalition issued a media release on Feb. 25. AgCoalition co-chair Page Stuart stated, “We are pleased that the AgCoalition is recognized as a positive means to move forward on upcoming consultation processes.”
However, it is unknown precisely what criteria the government will follow to choose the consultation working groups.
“We just want to make sure that our interests are represented...we are not against legislation,” Auch of Alberta Wheat Commission says.
Farmers’ protected in Saskatchewan
In Saskatchewan, safety and proper legislation is also held in high regards among the agricultural community.
“It’s definitely important,” Doehl says about safety standards. “You don’t want to be 23 [years old] and disabled in any way. I take every precaution I can to be safe but in the same sense I also want to get the job done.”
Doehl agrees that having some form of worker’s coverage is important, especially in case of a severe injury. Currently, it is optional in Saskatchewan for farm workers to be registered with an agency such as the Workers’ Compensation Board, contrast to Bill 6 where it is mandatory.
“If you don’t have that workers [compensation] or anything like that, you’re pretty well hooped,” says Doehl. “You can’t live, you have no money coming in... you have absolutely nothing.”
Although Doehl does not have any form of mandated workman insurance coverage at this time, he is protected in other ways under The Saskatchewan Employment Act, which specifically outlines the expectations of both the farm employer and employee.
Under this Act, a farm worker like Doehl has the right to refuse any unsafe work, and must report to the employer anything that seems unsafe.
As well, farm workers must cooperate with the employer, be responsible, and must wear personal protective equipment provided by the employer or outlined in the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations.
Those rules aside, Doehl says his employer has always been there for him and there is a strong form of trust between them. When Doehl had to get stitches, his employer drove him to the hospital and was there to support him.
Meanwhile in Alberta, farmers and ranchers have expressed their anger towards the mandatory Workers’ Compensation Board insurance.
“I don’t like seeing anything mandatory,” Auch says. Although he understands the need for workers to be properly insured, he says the government may be ‘overreaching’ by mandating the insurer.
Thumbnail courtesy of Scazon/Flickr under Creative Common Lisence with attribution
- By Skye Anderson