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COVID-19 Updates Features Food Safety Labour
New program allows Ontario agri-food workplaces to assess their COVID-19 risk

Farms can book a consultation with Workplace Safety and Prevention Services to assess the COVID-19 risk of their operations and provide awareness training for workers.


July 24, 2020
By Stephanie Gordon


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The largest risk to farms is managing exposure to people outside the farm, whether it's suppliers, contractors, or new workers. Photo by Johnny Martínez/Unsplash.

Ontario agricultural operations can now benefit from a free, government-funded consultation service to help choose the best options for protecting their workers from COVID-19. Even as new COVID-19 cases start to subside in the province, business owners are being urged to take precautions against potential waves of the pandemic in the near future.

Carried out by experts at Workplace Safety and Prevention Services (WSPS) and tasked by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), the program provides each eligible agricultural operation with two days of personalized consulting and training services to help better manage the risks in their operation.

The tailored program also offers a pandemic recovery toolkit on measures for managing the risk of exposure to COVID-19, awareness training, as well as additional resources to support businesses as they implement measures to protect their employees.

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Valued at $2,000, each two-day consultation is being funded entirely through the Agri-food Workplace Protection Program. There are 125 spots available for agricultural operators and they’re approved on a first-come, first-served basis, says John Aird, director of strategic integration at WSPS.

Valued at $2,000, each two-day consultation is being funded entirely through the Agri-food Workplace Protection Program. There are 125 spots available for agricultural operators.

“We’ll go in and we’ll start with an assessment,” explains Aird. The WSPS expert will look to see what’s already in place, how well it’s working and identify areas where operators can better protect employees from contracting the virus. Examples include installing barriers or changing up cleaning procedures

For farms, Aird says that the highest risk areas are the introduction of other temporary workers into the farm bubble.

“The [seasonal agricultural workers] have been in Ontario and gone through quarantine and are living and working with each other in their bubble. The introduction of additional workers from the community at large is introducing new vectors bringing the virus in to this bubble.

“The recommended approach is to keep the two groups separate so they don’t mix the work teams, creating a separate bubble for the other workers. It also requires separation of the work groups including lunch space, washrooms, share equipment and other areas where the two bubbles might mix. Shared housing and kitchens and how that is being managed also continues to be an issue of concern, but is less so if the bubbles are kept contained,” Aird says.

Operators interested in this program would reach out directly to WSPS at 1-877-494-WSPS (9777). While the program ends March 2021, operators should take advantage of these services as soon as possible. WSPS also has a COVID-19 Hub with downloadable information and tools to help businesses minimize the risk of exposure to COVID-19. Fruit and vegetable operators can also access WSPS’s Guidance on Health and Safety for Agricultural Employers Using Temporary Help During COVID-19. The resource includes information about workers’ rights, employers’ responsibilities, employer duties under OHSA for temporary help, guidance for agricultural supervisors and workers during COVID-19.

“This program comes at an opportune time,” says Dean Anderson, WSPS strategic advisor on agricultural initiatives. “Adopting essential practices now offers businesses long-term value. They’ll be better prepared for the next wave or the next pandemic — something some experts are saying is inevitable.”

“It is important to be vigilant. There are many groups that are anticipating a potential second wave and we are seeing relapses in other jurisdiction internationally and in provinces like B.C. and Alberta.

“The area to be most vigilant in is managing exposure to people outside your bubble, whether that be suppliers and contractors, new workers and new people in town,” Aird explains.

“The area to be most vigilant in is managing exposure to people outside your bubble, whether that be suppliers and contractors, new workers and new people in town,” Aird explains.

“If everything seems fine, we suggest they wait until things slow down and then invite us to come in and assess the effectiveness of the current measures in place and recommend further measures to address any gaps or areas for improvement,” Aird adds.

Making the workplace safer

While operations may need to make monetary investments to enact some of the recommendations from WSPS, operators can take advantage of another funding stream under the Enhanced Agri-food Workplace Protection Program. It can help cover 70 per cent of the costs, or up to $7,500 for implementing those measures.

The Agri-food Workplace Protection Program can help cover 70 per cent of the costs, or up to $7,500 for implementing safety measures.

This includes modifications to reconfigure workstations, such as installing shielding or barriers, as well as purchase of protective equipment, such as masks, gloves and other protective gear, and medical equipment. This can include body temperature remote sensors, thermometers and cameras and COVID-related testing equipment.

Before you consider buying temperature checking equipment, note that Canada’s chief public health officer Theresa Tam has said that temperature-taking is not effective at all. Temperature scanners can produce false positives and false negatives, according to a COVID-19 fact check published by The Walrus magazine, and fever-suppressing drugs could mask symptoms in people. Temperature checks alone are not effective, but when combined with other measures such as face masks and health questionnaires, they can be helpful.

Businesses wishing to apply for support of these measures under the Enhanced Agri-Food Workplace Protection program must apply through OMAFRA, separate from the WSPS consultation services.

With files from Greenhouse Canada

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