Ontario has a robust agricultural sector that employs more than 20,000 temporary foreign agricultural workers each year. "There is often a misconception that workers who come to Ontario on work permits do not have the same rights under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) as any other worker," says Suzanne Thornham, Provincial Specialist with the Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training, and Skills Development (MLITSD). "Temporary foreign workers are absolutely entitled to same rights and protections as any other worker in Ontario."
To help ensure the safety of temporary foreign agriculture workers, the MLITSD is implementing a Fall Harvest Inspection Strategy from September 14th to November 30th. During this time, MLITSD inspectors will visit Ontario farms and greenhouses to look for evidence that workers have received proper training on the physical, chemical, and biological hazards they may face. Inspectors will also look for evidence that workers understand their rights and responsibilities under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), including their rights related to workplace violence and harassment. "Because of the barriers temporary foreign workers often face, such as language and unfamiliarity with Ontario's laws, they could be at higher risk for injury and illness," says Suzanne. "The purpose of this strategy is to ensure that workers know how to access assistance and resources if needed. We also want to ensure that the farm operators understand their obligations under the OHSA and that workers know their rights as well." Living quarters are not part of this strategy because they do not fall under the jurisdiction of OHSA.
Training and communication will play a significant role in this strategy. According to Suzanne, inspectors will look at how temporary foreign agricultural workers are being trained, particularly looking to see if an employer has resources available in the language spoken by the majority of workers. They will also evaluate the communication methods being used. "Inspectors will want to see communication beyond a poster on the wall," says Suzanne. Some farm operators hire translators to ensure training and other information is understood. Videos can be a useful tool as well. Ultimately, inspectors will expect to see evidence that workers have understood and retained the health and safety information provided to them.
Prepare for Inspections
Dean Anderson, Strategic Advisor for Agriculture with WSPS echoes Suzanne's emphasis on communication and training. "The controls are in the training," he says. Farm operators must ensure that their workers not only understand the hazards they will encounter, but also how they are going to protect themselves from getting hurt.
"It's not just about doing the training," says Dean. "You also have to document it. Having a sign-in sheet is one way to do that, but another method we recommend is taking a photo. Have the workers who are present for training gather together and take a picture."
When asked how farm operators should prepare for the MLITSD's inspection strategy, here’s what Dean shared regarding training.
- Worker Health and Safety Awareness in 4 Steps - This worker awareness training is critical. It explains the worker's rights and responsibilities and who to go to for help.
- Hand Signal Training - Tractors and other heavy equipment require signally for safe use. Ensure workers are trained on the signals commonly used at the farm.
- Noise Training - If workers are working in proximity to noise-generating machinery (e.g., a diesel tractor or conveyor), make sure they have appropriate PPE and have been trained in its use. Another way to address noise is to rotate workers, so they are not exposed to the hazard for long periods.
- Site-Specific Hazard Identification - The employer must provide workers with training that is specific to their workplace. Ensure workers are trained on the equipment that they are using (i.e., manufacturer’s instructions). An understanding of the safety features is imperative.
- Joint Health and Safety Committee (JHSC) - Knowledge of the JHSC or Health and Safety Representative (HSR) is key to understanding how to access assistance on health and safety issues. Train your workers on the JHSC, how it works, and who its members are.
How WSPS Can Help
Connect with a consultant to find out more about the services offered by our agricultural team.
- Orientation on Health and Safety for New Agricultural Workers (1.5 hours, eCourse)
- Safety, Health and the Law for Greenhouses (1 Day, in person)
- JHSC Certification Part 2 - Agriculture (2 Days, in person or virtual)
- Tractor Safety - Learning the Basics (0.5 Days, in person)
- Preventing Hearing Loss from Workplace Noise (1 hour, eCourse)
- Safety Connection: Hazard Assessment for Agriculture (1.5 hours, webinar)