FARM SAFETY: UNDERSTANDING THE OHSA GUIDELINES

January 21, 2008
Written by Ken Linington
Agriculture has embraced the principles found in the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA). The Internal Responsibility System is based on the concept that workplace parties themselves are in the best position to identify health and safety problems and develop solutions. To balance the general right of employers to direct the workforce and control the production process in the workplace, the Act gives four basic rights to workers:

•    Right to participate in identifying and resolving health and safety concerns.

•    Right to know about hazards.

•    Right to refuse unsafe work.

•    Right to stop work in very specific circumstances.

Agriculture has been under OHSA for six months. It will likely take two to three years before everyone involved with the Internal Responsibility System feels truly comfortable with the process. OHSA will indeed change the culture in the workplace, and with any change it takes time to adapt.

TRANSITION PERIOD
OHSA has applied to most industry sectors in Ontario since 1979. The Ministry of Labour (MOL) has always administered this Act. The Harris government cutbacks hit MOL, though with no real change in its mandate. Is it practical to take 27 years of history and apply it to an industry that has had no experience with the Act?

If OHSA is going to work on the farm, then farmers must be allowed to adapt to the regulation over time. Understanding the principles and supporting the intent of the Act will bring willing compliance. Voluntary compliance is always more effective than enforced compliance. Agriculture frequently uses the approach of informing, educating and advising, followed by progressively stronger action to gain compliance of repeat offenders.

The first OHSA announcement occurred in March 2004. The industry then worked with government through to June 2005 to establish a framework and ultimately the regulation. The first true transition period occurred from July ’05 to June ’06. The regulation was defined and the industry was given a year to prepare for its implementation.  A second transition period runs from July ’06 to June ’07.

During the first year of implementation, MOL will be reactive, not proactive. Reactive means they will respond to complaints and notice of injury or fatality. Proactive is when they initiate inspections based on someone having a poor safety record, reflected by such indicators as their Workplace Safety Insurance Board (WSIB) history.

FARMING OPERATIONS GUIDELINES
The OHSA ‘Guidelines’ for Farming Operations were developed to highlight specific, and sometimes unique and unusual, hazards on the farm. Employers have a legal obligation to take every precaution reasonable to protect workers. In many ways, the Act is more about worker rights than about specific safety practices. The end goal is to work in a safe manner. How you do that is not as critical.

Guidelines are designed to help recognize hazards and suggest safety practices.  The guidelines are a starting point for workplace parties to think about how to work safely. Following the guidelines does not relieve workplace parties of the obligation of “taking every reasonable precaution.”  Guidelines may need to be customized to suit their particular circumstances. Guidelines will be expanded or modified over time, reflecting our experiences. The Farm Safety Association played a major role in developing guidelines that are approved by industry, OMAFRA and the MOL.

The guidelines for eight hazards have been completed. They are:
•    Tractors and other self-propelled equipment.
•     Mechanical equipment.
•     Large animal handling.
•     Personal protective equipment.
•     Hazardous atmospheres and confined spaces.
•     Fall protection.
•     Lockout procedures.
•     Occupational illness.

TRACTORS AND OTHER SELF-PROPELLED EQUIPMENT
As an example, this “guideline” looks at general responsibilities, factors to consider when operating, training, a before-starting checklist, prevention of rollovers, precautions with power takeoff, hitching, and attachments. Hazards associated with farm equipment are:
•     Shear points.
•     Wrap points.
•    Pull-in points.
•     Springs.
•     Pinch points.
•     Crush points.
•     Free-wheeling points.
•     Hydraulic systems.
Self-propelled vehicles are the most common piece of equipment involved in farm accidents. Rollovers are the most common accident. Some 85 per cent of tractor upsets are side rollovers, 14 per cent are rear overturns, and one per cent are front overturns. Under the Farm Implements Act, all new tractors and all used tractors manufactured after Jan. 1, 1992, with more than 20 horsepower and sold by a dealer, must be equipped with a Roll-Over Protective System, or ROPS. Tractors may be oper-ated without ROPS in situations where it is not practical to do so.

OTHER SECTOR REGULATIONS
Industrial, construction and mining make up the other sector specific regulations under OHSA. Roughly 5.8 million workers use the “industrial” regulations, 400,000 workers use the “construction” regulations, and 23,000 workers use the “mining” regulations. These sector regulations tend to be much more prescriptive on specific safety practice. The Farming Operations Regulation is about one page in length. By comparison, the construction regulations are 93 pages in length, and mining is 85 pages. 
Prescriptive regulations dictate the way in which a task must be accomplished. Clearly, the Farming Operations regulation is not following this approach, as there are no prescriptive regulations in farming. It is worth noting that farming operations have the same obligations under the Act as do the other sector regulations. An overwhelming number of agricultural commodities indicated that they felt they were over-regulated now and wanted flexibility in how to work safely.

OTHER GENERAL REGULATIONS
The Farming Operations Regulation also encompasses three fairly general regulations that will apply to agriculture.

The employer must report “any fatality or critical injury” (Regulation 834) to the Ministry of Labour. A critical injury is defined as an injury of a serious nature that:
•     Places life in jeopardy.
•     Consists of burns to a major portion of the body.
•    Causes a loss of sight in an eye.
•     Involves a substantial loss of blood.
•     Produces unconsciousness.
•     Involves an amputation of a leg, arm, hand or foot.
•     Involves a fracture of a leg or arm.

It is obvious that some judgment is required. But it’s better to be safe than sorry, so if in doubt, report the incident to any MOL office. The Ministry has 23 regional offices spread around the province, or you can contact the head office in Toronto (800-268-8013). Calling 911 or reporting something to police, ambulance or fire services does not constitute contacting MOL. The best recommendation is to post the nearest MOL regional office number near critical telephone(s) at your business. Provide assistance to the injured worker, but do not disturb or alter the workplace until MOL releases it.

The employer is obligated to pay for certified member training (Regulation 780). Under the “right to participate,” named farm commodities, including greenhouses, with 50 or more regularly employed workers must have a Joint Health and Safety Committee. A worker and an employer representative must receive WSIB approved training. Level One certified training is generic, while Level Two involves workplace-specific training. Training can occur in a classroom, by correspondence or online, and must be recorded.

Certain skilled trades (Regulation 572) require the appropriate accreditation from the Apprenticeship and Certification Act or the Trades Qualifications Act. This regulation has applied to agriculture for a number of years. It is included because MOL inspectors will provide enforcement for the Acts.

In very general terms, the trades included are auto mechanic, auto body, water meter installer, electrician for construction (rural and domestic), hoisting engineer, plumber, refrigeration/air conditioning, sheet metal, and steamfitter. The regulation should be interpreted as doing work on a commercial basis for workplaces other than their own farm. Farm operators can do tasks or have a worker do work in these areas if it is for their own purposes within their own business and they can demonstrate the capability of doing the work.

OHSA has 34 regulations. A number deal with “designated substances” (such as lead, mercury and benzene). There are some occupation-specific regulations (like teachers, divers, academics and firefighters). There are some generic regulations (like confined spaces, occupational exposure limits, WHMIS) that do not apply to agriculture.

This project is funded in part through contributions by the Government of Canada and the Province of Ontario under the Agricultural Management Institute (AMI), an initiative of the federal-provincial-territorial Agricultural Policy Framework designed to position Canada’s agri-food sector as a world leader. The Agricultural Adaptation Council administers the AMI program on behalf of the Government of Canada and Province of Ontario.

Ken Linington is the human resources director with Flowers Canada (Ontario). • 519-836-5495, 800-698-0113, fax 519-836-7529, or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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