OHS Canada Magazine

Alberta to adopt OHS protection for farmers

Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier: "The time has come to make the change."

The Alberta Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry has announced plans to extend occupational health and safety legislation to agricultural workers.

The province is the only one in Canada that excludes farm employees from oh&s protection. But Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier announced on July 7 that he wanted to make safety protections for Alberta farm workers a reality.

“We feel that it’s time that farm workers no longer have an exemption from health and safety regulations,” Carlier told COHSN. “The same regulations that protect other workers should protect farm workers too. So we’re moving forward with that, just to make sure that farm workers, as all workers, have at least a little bit more of an opportunity to get home safe and sound every night.”

Carlier added that the legal details and timing would be up to the Ministry of Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour, headed by Lori Sigurdson. “I’m still hoping sooner better than later, but I have no actual timelines,” he said.

Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said that he and his organization were very pleased with the ministry’s proposition. “We’re thrilled that the Notley government is living up to its commitment to extend basic workplace health and safety protection to agricultural workers,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do, and it’s long overdue.”


McGowan noted that every other Canadian province had already managed to establish a successful oh&s system for farm workers. “This isn’t rocket science,” he added. “The only shame in the situation is that it’s taken the election of a New Democrat government to do what should have been done literally decades ago.”

Carlier, whose NDP government had taken power in May, said he didn’t know why Alberta still lacked basic oh&s coverage for agriculture.

“I can’t speak on previous governments,” said Carlier, “but I know previous governments had been working forward. They had consultations and discussions with stakeholders, and we’re taking that a step further.

“I really don’t know why it’s taken so long, but the time has come to make the change.”

Last fall, then-Premier Jim Prentice stated that he would consider extending oh&s legislation to large-scale farms, but wanted to see more research on the problem before committing.

According to McGowan, the delay was largely attributable to lobbying in the province’s business community – “trying to give the impression that the sky will fall if basic workplace health and safety protections are extended to agricultural workers,” he explained.

“But this is nothing more than self-interested and overheated rhetoric. There is absolutely nothing to fear from extending these kinds of protections to agricultural workers and much to gain in terms of improved workplace health and safety.”

McGowan added that the lobbyists have remained opposed to oh&s coverage “because they’ve been given a free ride for so long. Apparently it’s difficult for them to realize that the party’s over. These kinds of basic workplace health and safety protections will not bankrupt any businesses, but they almost certainly will save lives.”

Eric Musekamp, president of the Farmworkers Union of Alberta (FUA), said that he was also optimistic with the direction in which the government was heading.

“I actually had a lengthy meeting with the minister,” he said, referring to Carlier. “He made that pledge to me personally and asked that I be a little bit patient and wait for him to make an announcement.

“I’m quite convinced that the ministry is sincere.”

The FUA has also met with the provincial Health, Education, Transportation and Environment Ministers to discuss safety protection for farming, Musekamp added. “They are in favour of doing this. They want to do it. They consider it to be an abomination to have these Dickensian standards in agriculture.”

Musekamp said he had advised Carlier to adopt oh&s legislation similar to that of British Columbia. “We proposed that the Alberta Federation of Agriculture be the entity from the agriculture side to deal with the government in bringing forward the reforms.” The Federation president had agreed with the union’s proposal to establish a farm and ranch training society similar to British Columbia’s.

Carlier acknowledged having had “frank” discussions with Musekamp on farm safety. “We’re looking at various models, but we need to have something that’s going to be made for Alberta and work for Alberta, both the producers and the workers,” he noted.

“Ultimately, I’m hoping for equality at law for farm workers, so that a farm worker’s the same as any other worker,” said Musekamp.

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7 Comments » for Alberta to adopt OHS protection for farmers
  1. Sarah says:

    Hello to the nanny state and goodbye family farm!

  2. Kevin McNicholls says:

    I would rather say hello to the nanny state, than to have to say goodbye to a loved family member or worker, at a funeral service, knowing I could have prevented an accident by following the safety rules on the farm.

  3. Ken Robson says:

    Long overdue, education and training with minimal or no cost to the small or independent agricultural producer. Larger operations will benefit with reduced WCB costs, and less injuries better work environment.

  4. Shane Eklund says:

    Will this be applied to self-employed ranches or only ones with paid employees? Will my children no longer be able to ride in the tractor with me or pass me wrenches when working on the bailer?

  5. Kenton Danielson says:

    My question is why should it take a governing body for you to want to work safe? I myself work in a heavily oh&s regulated industry as well as have a family farm. Are you thinking that since oh&s will be involved that there will be a stop to farm incidents? Because I can tell you that oh&s can and will never stop incidents from happening in a job site. Period. It’s sad that people think that this will stop this. My personal opinion is that being safe and working safe is just something common sense says.

  6. Iain Hotte says:

    family farms are different from regular businesses and needed to be treated differently. Farms that only employ family members need to be exempted from oh&s legislation. My kids and family working with me makes farm life worthwhile. I do not need the government telling me how to farm. It takes a lifetime of experience to farm there is always more to learn. I do not trust a government employee who took a course on farming deciding how I should work and live. My farmyard is my home and I would consider inspections a breach of my property rights. Use a carrot instead of a stick. I do believe large farms with paid non related employees should have full regulations

  7. Trish Jones says:

    Bill 6 will bring an end to family farms as we know it. Go after the ones with 10 or more employees, but leave family farms alone. All it will do is turn parents into criminals if they let the kids come with them.

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