Alberta has launched a broad 78-member outside task force to recommend new farm safety rules, but Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier says there is no timeline for completion.
“We don’t have a hard, set deadline on when we’re expecting those recommendations. Sooner better than later, I suppose,” Carlier told reporters at the legislature Friday.
“We’ll make sure we give them the time to get this right.
“It’s a very diverse, very complicated industry.”
The members include industry leaders, farm and ranch managers and workers spread out over six committees.
The six groups will work out the regulations to tailor safety and labour rules to varied agricultural operations.
The chairs and members will be paid every time they meet, up to $1,000 a day for the chairs and up to $429 for members, plus travel expenses.
They may finish their work this year but Carlier said it could go into 2017.
Once their recommendations are done, the government will give Albertans a chance to respond to draft regulations.
Carlier said the final regulations may not be ready until late 2017.
Wildrose agriculture critic Rick Strankman said the plan lacks focus.
“The NDP government continues to be vague on details and timelines, as well as the compliance that will be necessary for farmers and ranchers while regulations for Bill 6 are developed,” said Strankman in a news release.
“I continue to have concerns that any positive work that may come out of consulting with actual farmers and ranchers will be superseded by the NDP government on this legislation.”
While the new rules are worked out, farms and ranches are subject to general occupational health and safety rules under a bill passed late last year and put into force this January by Premier Rachel Notley’s government.
The changes contained in that legislation, Bill 6, ignited protests at the legislature and threats to Notley and some of her cabinet last year.
Protesters fear the rules will tie up farm operations in red tape, making them unprofitable with one-size-fits-all regulations that may work on the factory floor but would be impossible to meet in dawn to dusk operations involving work that varies based on season and weather.
Labour Minister Christina Gray says until the new regulations are in place, occupational health and safety staff are trying to take the unique circumstances of each farm and ranch operation into account when investigating.
“It is a bit of a challenge for (investigators), but we need to make sure that we’re keeping people safe in the best way possible,” said Gray.
Gray’s office said there have been four investigations on farms and ranches since the bill took effect. All were in April. Two involved fatalities.
In one case, a farm worker died after an accident on a quad near Strathmore. In another case, a worker welding the rim of a tractor wheel was killed when the tire exploded.
OHS is still investigating those two cases but has not put in stop-work orders.
In the other two cases, a mixed farm near Leduc has begun replacing respiratory equipment and fixing the ventilation after an employee complained about being exposed to dangerous chemicals.
Near Hanna, a ranchhand suffered broken ribs and a punctured lung when she was stepped on by a calf. The ranch is now working with OHS to improve safety policies.
Under the bill, farm workers are now also eligible for workers’ compensation benefits.
Notley’s government has already made clear that the rules will only apply to paid workers on the commercial aspects of farms and that they won’t stop youths in farm families from learning the family business.