Two years after farm safety bill passes, no regulations in place in Alberta

EDMONTON — More than two years after Alberta passed legislation with new safety rules for farms, Labour Minister Christina Gray says the province is still consulting and has no specific timeline to enact the regulations.

“We want to work with the communities to get this right,” Gray said Tuesday. “We are also very interested in making sure that we bring this to a conclusion.”

Gray would not commit to having regulations in place by the end of the year, but said they will be enacted before the provincial election which must be held sometime in March, April or May of 2019.

“We will be putting forward and updating the regulations in collaboration with the (stakeholder) communities.”

Farm safety rules have followed a long, twisting and controversial path since Premier Rachel Notley’s government passed the legislation in December 2015.

It provides for workers’ compensation protection to paid farm labourers, and mandates health and safety rules for farming operations. Farm operators are currently held to a basic standard of care while the regulations are developed.

The changes were met with protests on the steps of the legislature. Opposition members and rural families said they feared the new rules would strangle producers in costly red tape and end the farming way of life.

The government promised in 2015 that farm-specific occupational health and safety regulations would be developed no later than 2017.

In spring 2016, it created multiple committees to consult and make recommendations on what the new safety rules should be. Those committees reported last March.

The government studied the recommendations for seven months before releasing them for public consultation in late October. The deadline for feedback was set for Jan. 15.

Gray has extended the deadline to Feb. 26 at the request of stakeholder groups.

There are more than 140 recommendations on topics that include protective gear, equipment, chemical hazards, welding, physical barriers and safeguards.

By and large, they attempt to strike a balance between safety and the reality of farm life, proposing workarounds and alternative solutions if the letter of occupational health and safety rules would prove an onerous burden to farm and ranch operations.

Kent Erickson with AgSafe Alberta said the government is right for not taking a one-size-fits-all approach.

AgSafe group is a coalition of producers aiding and advising the province on implementing farm safety changes.

Erickson said tailoring the rules takes time. He also said the changes will require a cultural shift on the part of farmers and ranchers who have traditionally taken care of business on their own.

“We’re very innovative, but we’re very independent.”

Too many rules, or rules deemed too restrictive or onerous, run the risk of their being ignored, he said.

“That’s not the point. The point is to create farm safety. We want to save lives.”

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