Starting January 1, as a new bill becomes law, Alberta farms and ranches will be subject to occupational health and safety regulations for the first time. Bill 6, the Increased Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act, also makes Workers Compensation Board coverage mandatory for the entire agricultural sector.
Rules for all farm and ranch workers
The rules will have an immediate impact on all farm and ranch workers, paid or not. They will be accountable to, and protected by, the same Occupational Health and Safety legislation as other industries in Alberta.
Last year, 25 people died on farms in Alberta. There were also many injuries but accurate statistics are hard to find. Reporting an accident isn't currently mandatory and investigations often don't take place.
The bill will also no longer exempt farms or ranches from following employment standards, including paying a minimum wage and overtime. These changes won't take effect though until after the legislation is finalized.
There has been a negative vocal reaction and protest to the bill from many farm and ranch owners. They state that small, family run businesses should not be governed by the same rules as corporations and have concerns with the speed in which the bill is going through. The government reminded these unhappy owners that the WCB also protects businesses from lawsuits. Without WCB coverage, an injured worker can sue a farm, an action that could potentially bankrupt the business.
A wider review of labour standards will take place over the next year to give all stakeholders a chance to voice their opinions.