“You can’t treat a farm building across the board.”
– CHRIS JONES, DEPUTY FIRE COMMISSIONER
The Manitoba fire commissioner’s office is recommending against a one-size-fits-all approach for including farm buildings under the provincial building code.
Different kinds of operations should be subject to different building standards, said Chris Jones, deputy fire commissioner.
“You can’t treat a farm building across the board. You can’t say, this is for all farm buildings,” Jones said after updating an Oct. 28 Manitoba Chicken Producers meeting on new proposed building code regulations, which would cover farm buildings for the first time.
Jones’s office presented public comments on the proposal to the provincial building standards board last week.
The Manitoba government earlier this year announced plans to require minimum construction standards for certain farm buildings.
Farm and production buildings (excluding residences) have traditionally been exempt from provincial building code standards.
But a recent surge in hog barn fires, killing tens of thousands of animals, helped spur a move to include agricultural buildings under the code.
Jones said his office recommends against having the same standards for every kind of operation.
Applications differ with the type of farm building, said Jones. As an example, he pointed to ventilation systems. Vegetable growers use downdraft air systems in their buildings while hog producers use forced air systems.
As another example, Jones noted vegetable operations may have 20 or more employees while hog barns may only have two or three. Having the same safe exit requirements for both isn’t practical, he said.
“Maybe we need to have specific clauses for specific applications.”
Only new farm buildings, as well as expansions or renovations to existing ones, will be covered by the code. Existing buildings are grandfathered because new codes cannot be applied retroactively, said Jones, who becomes the province’s chief fire commissioner November 9.
The building standards board, which advises the province on aspects of construction, could make the fire commissioner’s report public later this month. A draft regulation is expected this winter. Jones said that, too, will be open to comment before it is finalized.
Farm groups are wary of the proposed regulation, mainly because constructing farm buildings according to code will mean extra costs.
“There will be added costs, I’m sure, but let’s keep it reasonable,” said Waldie Klassen, Manitoba Chicken Producers chairman.
A discussion paper from the fire commissioner’s office earlier this year said additional requirements, such as fire separations, fire alarms and flame-retardant materials, would increase construction costs by only three to five per cent.
Jones said the bui lding standards board will make special efforts to accommodate producers. A four-member subcommittee will meet with farmers to discuss their concerns. A farm representative will be appointed to the board in December.
But some producers expressed skepticism that farmers’ voices will be heard.
Peter Wiebe, a New Bothwell broiler producer, said regulations affecting agriculture take on a life of their own. He said provincial manure management regulations didn’t seem onorous when first introduced, but now they affect farmers’ lives profoundly.
Bringing farm buildings under the code could be a crack in the door for animal welfare activists to eventually get even tougher restrictions on livestock operations, Wiebe suggested.
“There are people who would like nothing less than to have the whole animal production system shut down,” he said. [email protected]