2020 started peacefully enough, but then the warning signs of the impact of COVID-19 came fast and furious.
Ordinarily, requirements to meet new safety standards allow for months, if not years, for assessing, planning and then implementation. Not this time.
"Farmers of every type had to do a rethink on so many areas of their operations," says WSPS consultant Jay Remsik. "This included approaches taken to training."
The operative word in the training department was 'adapt.' While some tasks could be delayed, certification sticks to the calendar and needs to be completed and documented on time.
"Organizations that were used to doing training with thirty to fifty people at a time in a single room could no longer do so, given physical distancing requirements," recalls Remsik. "This meant breaking them up into groups of five."
Small Things Made a Big Difference
Things like pre-populating attendance sheets and even taking a picture of the group as visual proof as to who was in attendance.
A very specific 'COVID-19 Gap Analysis' needed to be implemented to identify policies, protocols and procedures that were being affected by the pandemic.
"Ordinarily straight forward processes like return to work programs needed to be modified," says Remsik. "While farms had experience when it came to supporting workers who experienced falls and other more traditional reasons for time off and re-integration, COVID-19 was uncharted territory."
Questions regarding WSIB claims, return to work programs and the whole process to get individuals back to regular working hours needed to be answered and often involved a whole new way of doing things. Jay and his colleagues at WSPS have been busy lending support on that front.
In large greenhouse operations with a hundred workers or in smaller operations, signage needed to be created to indicate maximum capacity of lunch rooms and consideration needed to be given to staggering lunch and break times.
Workers who previously would reflexively grab the closest tool for a job or the nearest pickup were now assigned particular pieces of equipment and vehicles to be used all day. Small things that made a big difference in dealing with the spread of this potentially lethal virus.
Role of Technological Advances
Innovative thinking has also extended to technological advances in the form of robotics. While robotics have been making their way into the agricultural world over the last number of years mainly for their impact on productivity, dealing with COVID-19 presented a whole new benefit.
Autonomous track systems are now a reality. From memorizing plowing patterns in the field to carting produce to the packhouse, these systems limit human contact, so important during the pandemic, as well as add new efficiencies that are good long term solutions.
As we approach the end of 2020, the agriculture sector can feel proud of the example it has set for all Canadian industry - being responsible and caring for the health of its workforce as well as being innovative in its job as an essential service to all Canadians.
For information on WSPS training offerings for the farming community, visit: https://wsps.news/3knZJoi