Occupational health and safety: Farm and ranch legislation

Paid, non-family farm and ranch workers are protected under OHS basic safety standards as of January 1, 2016.

Update on OHS recommendations

The technical working groups studying occupational health and safety have submitted their recommendations outlining how provincial legislation could apply to farms and ranches.

Review the recommendations and provide your feedback by Feb 26, 2018.

The OHS Act sets standards for the protection of workers throughout the province. Employers are obligated to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of workers on the site. Workers have an obligation to work safely and cooperate with their employer to keep the workplace safe.

Alberta is the only province where OHS legislation does not apply to farms and ranches. By ensuring farm and ranch workers are subject to OHS legislation, we can work to prevent and learn from farm and ranch incidents that can result in death or injury.

While basic safety standards came into effect Jan 1, consultations to develop and finalize the detailed technical rules for farms and ranches are underway. The unique aspects of the industry will be considered as these regulations are developed.

Who’s affected

Farms and ranches with at least one waged, non-family worker will be covered by the basic safety standards set out in the OHS Act, and the appropriate technical rules once they are developed. OHS standards will only apply to an operation if a paid worker is present on the farm or ranch, and then only to those waged individuals.

Family members of the owner of a farm or ranch operation are explicitly excluded from the application of OHS. Family and friends can continue contributing to farming operations as they always have, and neighbours can still volunteer to help each other out.

A family member is defined as:

  • The spouse or adult interdependent partner of the farm or ranch owner; or
  • A child, parent, grandparent, sibling, aunt, uncle, niece, nephew or first cousin of the farm or ranch owner. This relation can be by blood, marriage, or adoption, or by virtue of an adult interdependent relationship.

OHS law does not apply to the private residence, which includes areas around the home, like the lawn area, backyard or garden, or when people are doing non-work related activities on their land, such as recreational activities like horseback riding or hunting.

Basic safety standards

Until detailed technical rules are developed, producers with non-family, waged workers will need to follow generally acceptable industry standards and apply general health and safety principles, such as hazard assessments, safeguarding, and use of personal protective equipment.

Workers are able to refuse unsafe work that presents an imminent danger.

OHS officers have authorization to investigate serious injuries or deaths of paid, non-family workers. Such investigations could involve reviewing health and safety procedures, condition of equipment, availability of training, etc.

OHS does not investigate non-paid or non-work related incidents. The only exemption is if an owner requests an investigation of an incident involving a resident to help determine what went wrong, and to provide learnings to help prevent similar incidents from happening elsewhere.

Refusing unsafe work

A worker who believes their work is unsafe is obligated to tell their employer. The employer is obligated to provide a safe and healthy work environment, and must investigate the situation and provide a solution that ensures the work can be performed safely. In these cases, the worker’s job security is guaranteed.


Farms that do not meet basic safety standards may be inspected by OHS inspectors; however, inspectors cannot conduct those inspections without cause. Cause includes a complaint, a fatality, or a record of unsafe behaviours.

OHS contraventions

Resolving the situation is the first objective. Penalties or prosecutions may be appropriate in certain circumstances where there are serious, repeat or willful contraventions or failures.

Stop work order

Caring for people, animals and crops is important. If a worker’s health and safety is in danger, a stop-work or stop-use order may be an officer’s only reasonable choice. OHS officers would consider the use of a stop-work order on a case-by-case basis. Officers are expected to act appropriately and not impede the normal activities on a farm or ranch. Once the danger is controlled, work can continue.

OHS officer training

Some of our officers already have extensive farming experience, while others will undergo training. Similar to other industries, experts can always be brought in to provide input and advice during investigations that follow a serious injury or fatality.

Appeals process

An appeals process is in place if an operator doesn’t agree with the decision of an OHS officer. Issues that can be appealed before the OHS Council are:

  • orders issued by Occupational Health and Safety
  • the cancellation or suspension of a licence or permit
  • the issuance of an Administrative Penalty
  • a ruling from a dismissal or disciplinary complaint investigation
  • a ruling from an imminent danger complaint investigation