Labour shortages and seasonal demand mean more operations are relying on workers from temporary help agencies, but who's responsible for the workers' health and safety? The client employer or the agency?
"It's both," says WSPS Consultant Jay Remsik. "They share responsibility as 'employers' under the Occupational Health and Safety Act."
Just how well temporary workers are being protected is the subject of a Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development inspection initiative now underway. Inspectors will be conducting unscheduled visits to farms until August 31.
Temporary farm workers, often new and young workers, and foreign workers, are at higher risk of injury due to unfamiliarity with workplace hazards, reluctance to speak up for fear of losing their job, and language barriers.
Keeping these workers safe requires the agency and the employer to ensure workers understand their roles and responsibilities, and have the knowledge and training to do the job.
Prepare your workplace with these seven best practices.
- Conduct a hazard assessment to identify hazards the workers will face, the training needed, and personal protective equipment (PPE) requirements.
- Provide this information to the agency, and determine whether the agency or your workplace will provide mandatory health and safety awareness training.
- Validate workers' knowledge, training and skills. "Don't make assumptions," says Jay. "Ask questions about their training and/or have them operate equipment in a safe location." If a worker lacks knowledge, training or skills, bring them up to speed before they begin work.
- Provide orientation and job-specific training. In your orientation training include health and safety policies, hazards, emergency procedures, hazard and incident reporting, and contact info for the joint health and safety committee or health and safety representative. Focus job-specific training on hazards, safe work procedures, and PPE. Provide supplementary training as required (e.g., on safe handling, use and storage of chemicals). For workers with limited English language skills, bring in an interpreter or enlist another employee who speaks the same language to train and validate.
- Confirm understanding. "Use the show, tell, check and test method," suggests Jay. Describe and demonstrate what needs to be done, then have the worker do the same.
- Actively supervise the workers. "They need to be monitored by a supervisor who provides constructive feedback on what they’re doing well and what could be improved."
- Communicate with other workers. The possibility of violence and harassment directed against foreign workers is one hazard you cannot ignore. Remind all workers of your violence and harassment policies.
How WSPS can help
Consulting: Find out more by emailing or speaking with our on-duty consultant.
- MLITSD Temporary Help Agencies Initiative - Agriculture Sector 2022 (pre-recorded webinar)
- Hazard Identification, Assessment and Control (3-hour eCourse) (French)
- Orientation on Health and Safety for New Agricultural Workers (1.5-hour eCourse) (French)
- Tractor Safety Awareness (free 20-minute eCourse)
- Tractor Safety - Learning the Basics (half-day course; available on site)
Guides and checklists
The information in this article is accurate as of its publication date.