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Sowing a foundation for safer Ontario greenhouses

Woman working in greenhouse filled with flowers

Good things happen when industries grow together. And now, stakeholders from across Ontario's greenhouse sector are leveraging insights gleaned from a multi-year, multi-perspective think tank to cultivate safer, healthier, and more sustainable workplaces.

Launched in 2015, the Greenhouse Risk Assessment Project was undertaken by Workplace Safety & Prevention Services (WSPS) with the Ministry of Labour Training and Skills Development (MLTSD). It's mission: to engage industry partners to unearth the risks and hazards that make the greenhouse sector home to one of the higher rates of lost-time injuries across all industry sectors and to develop the controls and solutions to improve safety.

"The good news is we've seen injury rates come down over time with the introduction of new guidelines and best practices, but more needs to be done to ensure greenhouse employers are aware of risks and obligations, and are embracing health & safety as a responsibility," says Kristin Hoffman, Consultant with Workplace Safety & Prevention Services.

The project gave greenhouse employers, workers, health & safety experts, and allied organizations a forum to share real-world experiences, illuminate worker concerns, and collaborate on evidence-based solutions.

"Uniting a sector to identify workplace risks and hazards and root out the causal factors is no small feat. But all participants recognized the value in bringing their collective experience to the table as the only way to begin identifying and developing tailored solutions," says Hoffman, adding, "It was their meaningful contributions and insights that made this project a success, and that same spirit of collaboration is putting words to action."

Raising industry voices

Led by MLSTD's Chief Risk Officer Dr. Sujoy Dey, WSPS hosted a series of workshops focused on bringing representative workplaces together to identify the top ten risks in the greenhouse sector based on likelihood and severity and then, determine the top root causes to those hazardous conditions. Working at heights was ranked highest among all perceived risks by both employers and workers due in part to lack of fall prevention programs, safety railings and other supports, and factors that were contributing to slips, trips, or falls.

Other primary root causes identified included:

Personal protection equipment (PPE) and Internal Responsibility System (IRS), which include guidance, policies and training on the recognition, identification, and control of hazards, required PPE, near-miss processes and corrective action plans.

Preventive maintenance, including a pre-risk assessment policies and regular inspections of greenhouse equipment (e.g., lifting devices, ladders, machinery, and equipment.).

Workplace Culture and Mental Health Considerations, which influence all elements of a healthy workplace including culture, the physical environment, personal health and community

Fit for Duty, referring to various factors beyond working conditions and physical demands including fatigue, substance use, unresolved conflict or harassment, environmental factors etc.) that can impede a worker’s ability to do their job safely and effectively.

With the risks assessed and the top ten root causes revealed, the next step in the process involved the stakeholder's recommending solutions and controls most essential in greenhouse operations, to effectively address the root causes, manage the risks and prevent accidents.

Inspired to improve

Many of the participants from the study have used the experience as a launch pad for the implementation of enhanced and more collaborative safety programs within their respective workplaces.

Jeffery's Greenhouses, a long-time champion for workplace health and safety, has seen first-hand the benefits of bringing all operational stakeholders together to design, implement, and support health & safety initiatives.

"It's so important getting managers and leaders to buy into this mission because that's when employees realize we're serious about our health and safety program," says Gina Marchionda, controller with the company.

In addition to reducing injuries and saving thousands on premiums, Marchionda adds that Jeffery's company-wide safety culture has been crucial to attracting talent, adding, "It's helped create a good reputation in the industry. People want to work for Jeffrey's, and they're referring others to do the same."

Putting results to action

As a result of the project findings and guided by the industry stakeholders, WSPS developed and launched a tailored training program for greenhouse managers to help them understand their roles and responsibilities for managing identified risks in the workplace. A full suite of resources, tools and training modules are also available in the Greenhouse Resource Hub to assist in the implementation of the solutions and controls.

Over the coming year, WSPS will be surveying workplaces that have implemented solutions and controls to improve management of health and safety to determine the effectiveness of this industry driven approach to assessing risks and identifying root causes.

"The benefit of managing risk outweighs any time or cost. Greenhouse health and safety isn’t something that can be addressed in silos," she adds. "We owe the success of this project to the flower, fruit, vegetable and cannabis growers who brought experience and authenticity to the project. We are seeing the good that happens when stakeholders come together with a common goal and look forward to expanding the adoption of best practices to more workplaces."


Visit the WSPS website for the full suite of related solutions.