Spotlight on Policy: Inclusion of agriculture in the occupational health and safety act
Samantha Trudel is Alberta Barley’s government relations and policy intern. In this “Spotlight on Policy,” Samantha investigates the inclusion of agriculture in The Occupational Health and Safety Act, and what the implications might be.
Alberta is the only province in Canada where agriculture is not included in Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) legislation.
The existing framework has been under scrutiny as critics claim that not protecting workers could result in decreased productivity and the inability to attract new workers to the province. Agriculture currently ranks in the top-five high-risk occupations in Canada, and without agriculture’s inclusion in OHS legislation, there is no way to investigate injuries or fatalities on a farm.
This issue has entered the spotlight as a result of the recent Alberta election. The governing New Democratic Party has labeled farm safety as a key priority, increasing the urgency for consensus within the industry.
If agriculture were to be included in the Occupational Health and Safety Act, OHS officers would assume the role of RCMP officers, who currently investigate farm injuries. In contrast to the RCMP, OHS officers have more expertise in workplace investigations.
To get a sense of how this has played out in other provinces, agriculture came under The Workplace Safety and Health Act in Manitoba in 2009. From 1995 to 2009, there were 82 agricultural fatalities in Manitoba, with an average of five fatalities per year. From 2010 to 2012, there were 16 agricultural fatalities in Manitoba, with an average of five fatalities per year. There was no change in the agricultural fatality rates after its inclusion in The Workplace Safety and Health Act. This suggests that OHS is merely an investigative and reporting tool for the government or the standards are not being enforced to prevent similar injuries from occurring again. To that end, what the industry will most likely gain from inclusion in the OHS Act is the social license to employ workers.
Feedback from farmers has shown they support increasing educational resources in order to develop an industry-wide culture of safety. Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development (now Alberta Agriculture and Forestry), in conjunction with Alberta Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour, developed the Alberta FarmSafe Plan, a business risk-management tool designed to help farmers create and implement a health and safety system on their farm. The FarmSafe plan includes development of a manual and a two-day workshop to help farmers create a written health and safety plan for their operation. The workshops will resume in the fall of 2015.
The issue of OHS is still being fully investigated by the provincial commissions, and representatives will be attending a stakeholder meeting in Edmonton in June to further discuss the options with the government in the hopes of coming to an industry-endorsed solution.
Whether agriculture is eventually included in The Occupational Health and Safety Act or not, the industry must come together to discuss the issues collectively and proactively.