Farm COVID safety Q-and-A

KAP safety consultant Morag Marjerison answers some of the most common questions she’s heard from farmers on COVID-19 safety

COVID-19 safety concerns have added a few new complications to the already busy spring season. KAP safety consultant Morag Marjerison said the questions she’s getting from producers are falling into roughly six categories.

Here are answers to those questions, and resources to dig deeper on what is required for each specific farm.

What are my responsibilities towards keeping my workers safe? What protocols do I need to put into place?

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Farmers should refer to the information for business owners provided by the Public Health Agency of Canada and the province, said Morag Marjerison, farm safety consultant with Keystone Agricultural Producers. These regulations may change, so producers may want to review regulations weekly.

These include information on physical distancing requirements, what information must be provided to employees, handwashing and sanitation requirements, required signage, etc.

Marjerison gave some additional suggestions to streamline safety requirements.

Some tasks don’t work with six-feet distancing requirements. For these, farms with multiple employees could pair workers so the same two workers always work together. This could reduce cross-contamination.

If it’s possible, she said, farmers could think about limiting how many people use the same tractor so it doesn’t need to be sanitized as often.

She also suggested putting a notebook in each truck or tractor so workers can initial once they’ve sanitized so other people on the farm know it’s been done, and so it has been documented.

Do I need to document what’s being done on the farm to keep people safe ?

“Documenting anything is a great resource. It provides you with the ability to prove what you’ve been doing,” said Marjerison during the webinar.

If there was an outbreak of COVID-19 on the farm and Public Health began an investigation, documentation will help prove that the farm has been practising all safety requirements.

Documentation can also give reassurance to farm workers or visitors that safety is being taken seriously, said Marjerison.

Can workers refuse to come to work if they feel at risk at the farm?

According to the province, “Under the Workplace Safety and Health Act, workers have the right to refuse work that they reasonably believe constitutes a danger to their safety and health, or that of another person should they perform the task.”

This refusal follows a specific process under the act.

The province has given additional guidance for work refusals related to COVID-19.

This includes how to assess the exposure risk at a workplace or during a task, including assessing the likelihood of the worker to be exposed to the virus, and asking if the worker has pre-existing medical conditions that might increase their risk of serious illness.

If the risk of exposure or illness is high, the employer confirms that “appropriate controls” are in place, the province says. This includes access to handwashing and sanitation facilities, access to personal protective equipment, and if the workers are adequately trained in handwashing, infection control and how to use protective equipment.

If the worker and employer can’t come to an agreement on what should be done, Manitoba Workplace Health and Safety may get involved.

“This might be a good example of where you would want some documentation in place for the (safety) protocols,” said Marjerison.

What would happen if I (the primary farmer) get sick or have to isolate?

If a farmer needs to self-isolate, this means they cannot be physically “out and about” on the farm if there are hired workers, said Marjerison. She suggested planning ahead for that scenario so others on the farm know what needs to be done.

During a safety planning webinar with KAP on May 28 , Marjerison said some farms have whiteboards up in shops or barns where they list upcoming tasks like which field needs to be sprayed next. This might be an effective way for the farmer to put their plans out in the open in a way that is easy to update.

A whiteboard is also a good place to list key contact information — for fuel suppliers or agronomists, for example.

When do we need to wear masks on the farm?

As of June 3, said Marjerison, masks should be worn when workers can’t maintain six feet or two metres distance from each other — or if required off farm. For instance, a business owner may require a mask to enter their establishment.

During the May 28 webinar, Marjerison said homemade or disposable masks are adequate for situations where people need to work within six feet of each other for short durations, or for doing business.

This doesn’t include when masks are required for tasks like chemical application. In those cases, the product’s safety data sheet should be consulted for mask requirements.

Because some types of masks and other PPE have been in short supply, the province has put out a statement with some advice for producers if they can’t get the equipment they need.

It states that Health Canada hasn’t relaxed PPE requirements, and that homemade masks are not enough when handling chemicals that require an N-95 mask or respirator.

About the author

Reporter

Geralyn Wichers

Geralyn Wichers grew up on a hobby farm near Anola, Manitoba, where her family raised cattle, pigs and chickens. Geralyn graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in 2019 and was previously a reporter for The Carillon in Steinbach. Geralyn is also a published author of science fiction and fantasy novels.

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