Alberta Moves to Include Farm & Ranch Workers under OHS Laws

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Working on a farm or ranch can be very hazardous. For example, workers can get entangled in machinery, engulfed by seeds or grain, and even hurt by farm animals. The OHS laws across Canada protect farm and ranch workers—except in Alberta. But that situation just changed. The Alberta government recently introduced a bill that gives farm and ranch workers the same safety rights and protections as all other workers in the province and in the country. Here’s a look at Bill 6, the Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act (the Act).

THE ACT

Key Dates: On Dec. 11, 2015, the bill got Royal Assent. Key OHS changes in the Act will take effect Jan 1, 2016.

Laws Impacted: The Act makes changes to several statutes and regulations:

  • The Employment Standards Code and Regulation;
  • The Labour Relations Code;
  • The OHS Act, Farming and Ranching Exemption Regulation and OHS Code 2009; and
  • The Workers’ Compensation Regulation.

We’ll focus on the changes to the OHS and workers’ comp laws.

Who It Applies to: The Act expands the coverage of the OHS and workers’ comp laws to the following types of farming and ranching operations:

  • The production of crops, including fruits and vegetables, through the cultivation of land;
  • The raising and maintenance of animals or birds; and
  • The keeping of bees.

But the following activities are not considered farming and ranching operations for purposes of those laws:

  • The processing of food or other products from the operations referred to above;
  • The operations of greenhouses, mushroom farms, nurseries or sod farms;
  • Landscaping; and
  • The raising or boarding of pets.

In response to objections from some farm and ranch owners, the original bill was amended to exclude from coverage by the OHS and workers’ comp laws so-called family farms at which there are no paid employees or the only paid “workers” are the owners and their family members.

ANALYSIS

It made no sense for farms and ranches to be exempted from the OHS laws, especially given the various safety hazards that exist in these workplaces and the number of fatalities and serious injuries that occur there. For example, Alberta’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner confirmed that it had investigated 25 deaths related to agriculture in 2014 alone. And since 2009, there have been 145 equipment- and machinery-related serious injuries on BC farms and ranches, 11 of them fatal.

What the Act means in practical terms is that farm and ranch owners covered by the Act will now need to contribute to the workers’ comp system and take all reasonable steps to ensure the safety of their workers, such as by guarding machinery, providing adequate safety training, etc. In addition, paid workers at farms and ranches will now have the same rights as other workers, including the right to refuse unsafe work and to be free from reprisals for exercising their new OHS rights. Paid workers will also be able to submit workers’ comp claims if they get injured while working on a farm or ranch.

Of course, family members who work on farms and ranches still don’t have safety rights and protections—and often they’re the ones injured or killed. For example, in Oct. 2015, a 13-year-old and her 11-year-old twin sisters were playing in their family’s loaded grain truck in Alberta when they suffocated in a dense pile of canola seeds. Two of the girls died at the scene; the third died in the hospital overnight.