Inspections will help protect temporary foreign workers ahead of the growing and harvesting season
TORONTO – The Ontario government is taking additional measures to protect farmworkers during the pandemic by expanding provincewide inspections to farms, greenhouses and other agricultural operations to ensure health and safety measures are being followed.
“Our government is taking action to protect essential temporary foreign workers who may be at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 during the upcoming growing season,” said Monte McNaughton, Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development. “We rely on these workers to ensure our grocery store shelves remain stocked and families have food on the table. These inspections will help stop the spread of COVID-19 on farms, and in our communities.”
The inspections will focus on locations that employ temporary foreign workers to ensure they are properly protected from COVID-19 through measures such as:
- Raising awareness of COVID-19 health and safety requirements through the distribution of information and instruction to farm workers, supervisors and employers;
- Increasing compliance with workplace health and safety laws, including putting protocols in place to ensure hand hygiene, masking, enhanced cleaning and disinfecting, and proper physical distancing between workers;
- Enhancing protection for temporary foreign agricultural workers living and working on farming and agricultural operations by ensuring employers are actively screening workers for COVID-19, including completion of a daily COVID-19 questionnaire;
- Providing compliance information and enforcement of public health measures required under the Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Approach to COVID-19) Act, 2020 to help stop the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace and in the community.
- Inspectors will also check on engineering controls, movement of workers, whether a workplace safety plan exists as required under the Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Approach to COVID-19) Act, 2020, and whether occupational illnesses are being reported as required under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA).
“Our farmers, agri-food workers, greenhouse operators and food processors are working hard to keep their operations safe while continuing to provide us with a steady and reliable food supply,” said Ernie Hardeman, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. “Since last spring, we have taken several measures to support them, including reinforcing public health protocols, making investments to increase operational capacity and helping to address labour challenges. Agri-food workplace inspections are part of our continued efforts to raise awareness, and prevent and control COVID-19 outbreaks.”
Inspectors may take enforcement action, as appropriate, in response to any violations of the OHSA. Enforcement may range from the issuing of orders to the laying of charges. The maximum penalty upon conviction under the OHSA is $1.5 million for a corporation and $100,000 for an individual. Individuals may also be imprisoned for up to 12 months on conviction.
These efforts build on the province-wide “Stay Safe All Day” campaign announced earlier this month that focuses workplace inspections in areas of high transmission, including break rooms. It also provides resource materials to employers and workers to promote safe behaviour before, during and after work.
The Ontario and federal governments are working together with local public health units to deliver education, support and compliance assistance to agricultural businesses and address workplace risks. This includes providing agricultural employers with resources, best practices and information to help keep workers safe and healthy, and businesses in operation during COVID-19.
Annually, Ontario welcomes thousands of foreign agricultural workers, mostly from Mexico and the Caribbean, under the federally administered Temporary Foreign Worker Program. These workers are an essential part of the agriculture industry in Ontario, ensuring grocery store shelves remain stocked.
There were 20,500 temporary foreign workers in Ontario in 2020, most of whom resided in communal living quarters on farms.
More than 1,780 temporary foreign workers tested positive for COVID-19 in Ontario in 2020 from Ontario acquired infections.
Ministry health and Safety inspectors visited 718 farms during COVID-19-related inspections in the agricultural sector in 2020 and issued 383 orders.
The inspectors have biosecurity training and are required to follow protocols to ensure the health and safety of farm animals during their inspections. Inspectors also follow biosecurity signage and may call farmers ahead of time to discuss their biosecurity protocols before inspecting the farm.