At the Alberta Federation of Agriculture (AFA) Annual General Meeting in January, guest speaker David Myrol, a lawyer and partner with McLennan Ross LLP, shared his expertise on Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) law.
Myrol is a nationally-recognized expert practicing almost exclusively in OHS law and is involved with many of the leading OHS cases in Alberta. His take on the new Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act that came into force on January 1, 2016: it’s complicated.
“The devil is in the details,” Myrol said at the AFA AGM on January 21. “There are lots of grey areas, the legislation is not drafted clearly, and specific regulations will be passed in the future.”
Myrol sought to bring clarification to the producers in the room by sharing an overview of OHS. He also shared insight into what he has seen in Alberta during his time as OHS Crown Prosecutor.
“From my point of view, this legislation was inevitable,” he said. “OHS legislation was needed to protect workers employed by food producers who own large operations. I believe that the intent of the legislation is aimed more at that category of employer than the small family farm.”
Myrol explained that the OHS Act is an enforcement tool that is meant to “ensure the health and safety of workers as far as reasonably practicable”. The Act, Myrol explained, is administered by Alberta’s Ministry of Labour and gives broad powers to OHS Officers who can:
- enter work sites
- inspect and investigate work sites
- seize and sample
- compel statements
Officers can issue stop work orders, write tickets, issue administrative penalties, and impose fines and jail as a result of commencing a formal prosecution. Myrol says that the case law for the most part presumes guilt, and therefore it is the responsibility of those charged to prove due diligence. In Alberta, from 2004 to 2014, there have been between seven and twenty-two prosecutions per year, with penalties between $2,000 and $1.5 million.
Delegates at the AFA AGM were reminded by Myrol that the OHS Act is just one of the acts that the Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act amended. The other legislation includes the Employment Standards Code, the Labour Relations Code and Workers’ Compensation Regulation.
Myrol said that much of the confusion occurred because the changes affected so many different areas. “To be fair to the government, these are tough areas to come up with language that gives absolute clarity for producers,” he said.
So what does this all mean for producers? In wrapping up, Myrol offered this advice: producers should answer the government’s call for input on how the changes are implemented. He strongly encouraged farmers and ranchers to get involved with the government consultation process and/or give feedback to the government directly or through industry and safety associations.
The Alberta government recently announced they are establishing six discussion roundtables to work with the agriculture community and other stakeholders in developing regulations in this area. More information can be found on the Alberta Agriculture and Forestry website.