MLA concerned over delay for farm safety rules

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Highwood’s MLA is calling out the provincial government for delays creating workplace safety regulations for farms required under provincial legislation passed two years ago.

The Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act, commonly known as Bill 6, was approved in December 2015.

In the two years since, the Province has yet to complete detailed Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) regulations that will apply to farms and ranches, said Highwood MLA Wayne Anderson.

“After the fact, they’ve been delaying initializing this bill for at least several months now,” he said.

The bill meant basic workplace standards would apply to farms and ranches. It also required farms and ranches with paid workers to comply with OHS rules, as well as Workers Compensation Board coverage for paid farm employees. Under the legislation, the OHS standards will only apply to farms with one or more paid employees.

In the two years since Bill 6 was approved, the provincial government established several committees to study employment standards and OHS rules for farms and ranches.

The technical groups released their report for feedback and consultation in October 2017.

Anderson said the original deadline for public feedback was Jan. 15 and was pushed back further to Feb. 26.

He said the delay in creating regulations creates uncertainty for farmers. They need to know what they could expect to have to do to bring their operations in compliance with the regulation, said Anderson.

“Springtime is a time when you get all your equipment ready or when you start looking at upgrading some of your equipment, so sure there’s uncertainty,” he said. “Do they have to upgrade their equipment? Do they have to make some changes and buy new? Do they have to retrofit? Those are uncertainties, including the cost of the carbon tax, they’re probably scratching their heads going, ‘What do these people expect from us?’”

Anderson speculated the NDP likely expects backlash and doesn’t want to come out with anything that could be too disruptive before the election.

“I think they’re a little concerned and this is definitely a concern they have on their books because of the massive amount of protests,” he said.

Alberta Labour spokesperson Trent Bancarz said there isn’t a target completion date and it’s important to put in enough time to ensure the regulations are appropriate. He said the Province found it needed more time to work on the issue and to consult with farmers.

“I think what’s happened is as we’ve gone along with this process we’ve discovered that it’s something that’s new, it’s never really been done before in that sector and there needs to be a lot of consultation and there needs to be a lot of engagement with the farm and ranch communities and with OHS professionals and experts,” said Bancarz.

He said OHS recommendations for farms cover a variety of different potential situations that would apply to the farms and ranch sector.

“It could be things like a certain piece of machinery needs to have a certain type of guard on it, if you are perhaps working at a height above three metres you may need fall protection and it would specify what that would be,” he said. “They’re very specific technical rules.”

The recommendations are available online at https://www.alberta.ca/farm-and-ranch-consultations.aspx#toc-2 and open for comment until Feb. 26.

After Feb. 26, he said the Province will review the recommendations and feedback. Once the recommendations are complete, they would go to provincial cabinet for approval.

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