The Alberta government is about to update its workplace legislation to protect workers on farms and ranches, which are currently exempt from some laws governing safety.
Alberta is the only province where Occupational Health and Safety legislation is not enforced on farms and ranches, Oneil Carlier, the province's Minister for Agriculture and Forestry, noted in a statement on Monday. The government on Tuesday will propose changes in an attempt to keep farmhands safe.
The announcement comes one month after three young girls were killed in a farming incident in Withrow, Alta., which the RCMP ruled an accident. The annual rate of farm deaths for children under 15 in Canada has dropped less than one per cent between 1990 and 2012, while the rate of deaths for people between 15 and 59 has dropped by 1.1 per cent, according to the Canadian Agricultural Injury Reporting (CAIR) organization. Alberta is limited in its ability to respond to fatal agricultural incidents because OHS rules do not cover farms and ranches in the province.
"That means OHS officers cannot investigate farm deaths and make recommendations to prevent future injuries or fatalities," Mr. Carlier's statement said. "This is not acceptable.
"Changes are coming to include farms and ranches in our workplace legislation to ensure workers in the agriculture industry like other workers in Alberta, have the right to safe, fair and healthy workplaces."
Canada had 2,317 agricultural fatalities between 1992 and 2012, with the overall rate of 12.1 deaths per the Canadian 100,000 farm population, according to CAIR. Of that, 388 were between the ages of 60 and 69, and 373 were between 50 and 59.
It is especially unsafe to grow up on a farm. For example, Alberta farm kids under 18 were 83 per cent more likely to suffer severe injury or death than their urban counterparts between 1999 and 2010, according to a comprehensive doctoral thesis by Kyungsu Kim at the University of Alberta's School of Public Health.
The Alberta government will roll out its farm safety proposals at the Kalisvaart family farm, known as Kalco Farms Ltd., near Gibbons, Alta. Mike Kalisvaart believes Alberta lags behind other provinces on employee safety and rights on farms. Workers' compensation for Alberta farms, he said as an example, is not mandatory. Kalco, which employs about 15 people in peak seasons, voluntarily participates in the program.
"I really felt that as we got larger, just by the amount of activity that's happening on our farm, there's a greater chance for accidents and I just wanted to make sure that everyone has some income protection," he said. "I just felt a whole lot better for the people that work for me if I knew that I could provide that if something did happen."
Mr. Kalisvaart, who also encourages farm safety education, said the workers compensation program also gives Kalco some liability protection. The operation covers about 12,000 acres.