FARMING IS QUITE UNIQUE AMONG OHSA SECTORS

January 21, 2008
Written by Ken Linington
Agricultural commodity groups felt the industry was over-regulated and wanted a flexible approach to regulations. The principles of the Occupational Health and Safety Act will change the culture of the
workplace as workers gain rights and responsibilities.
Industrial, construction and mining make up the main sector specific regulations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA). Roughly 5.8 million workers use the “industrial” regulations, 400,000 use the “construction” regulations, and 23,000 use the “mining” regulations. It is very difficult to estimate how many will fall under the “farming operations” regulations. A good guess would be 43,000 full-time equivalent agricultural workers. What makes it difficult is that the census data records weeks of work, not workers.

The Farming Operations Regulation is about one 8.5” x 11” page in length. By comparison, the construction regulations are near 93 pages in length, and mining is almost 85 pages.  Why the difference? The short answer is that construction and mining regulations are “prescriptive,” while farming regulations are “interpretive.” The “industrial” regulations are somewhere in the middle, but clearly more prescriptive than farming.

What is meant by prescriptive? You must really understand the difference between an Act and a Regulation.
• The Act outlines the principles of health and safety, such as the Internal Responsibility System, the rights of workers, the role of employers and employees, enforcement procedures, and appeal processes. The “sector” regulations define how the Act will be applied in specific industries.

• Prescriptive regulations identify common hazards and define in detail how each hazard must be managed. An interpretive regulation does not identify specific hazards and subsequently does not dictate how to manage the hazard. The Farming Operation has eight guidelines that speak to types of hazards and offers possible ways to manage those hazards, but does not carry an obligation.

WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED AND WHY
There is a series of 13 “designated substances” regulations that do not apply to farming. Designated substances are easily defined hazardous substances that require special handling. Some examples include arsenic, asbestos, benzene, lead, mercury and vinyl chloride.

Why would farming be excluded from these obviously hazardous items? The answer is that other forms of legislation cover the handling of these substances in agriculture. Some examples include the Pesticides Act, the Fertilizer Act, and the Technical Standards and Safety Act.

Some regulations apply to circumstances not found in farming. Examples include teachers, university academics, X-ray safety, firefighting equipment, etc.

There are three generic regulations that need special mention.

Confined space regulations have had a long and challenging history in trying to develop a one-size-fits-all approach. Briefly, it looks at environments not suitable for human habitation. Lack of oxygen is one example, but it covers a very wide range of circumstances. If we applied the regulation to agriculture, we would find it very hard to live with tower silos, manure pits and grain bins. When you look at injury and fatality data, it would appear agriculture effectively manages these hazards. This would suggest it is not practical to apply the regulation in its present form.

One of the Farming Operations guidelines deals with “hazardous atmospheres and confined spaces” relative to farming environments. Farming acknowledges the concerns in confined spaces and has chosen to manage it in a different manner. Let’s not try to fix what is not broken.

Occupational exposure limits cover hundreds of mainly chemical and physical items and define limits for volumes, exposure times and handling procedures. Most chemicals in farming are pesticides, fertilizers or petroleum products, all of which have equivalent or greater restrictions or requirements in other pieces of legislation.

WHMIS (Workplace Hazardous Material Information System) was established across the country in 1988 as a means of identifying and handling hazardous materials. Farm Safety has used, and continues to use, this tool. OHSA is a minimum standard and farming must identify hazards and ways to manage them. There remains a lot of flexibility on how farming complies with that part of the Act. The “flexible” approach to the regulation is consistent with the various aspects of the Act. As a result, farming is not obligated to use WHMIS.
 
HISTORIC APPROACH
The Farm Safety Association began in 1975 to develop and communicate ways to work safely on the farm. Their focus dealt with specific safety practices of identified hazards. Back in the 1970s, when their sister organizations were established and had started to grow, many of the specific safety practices became embedded in the OHSA industrial regulation. Since agriculture was not covered by OHSA, those safety practices were recommendations, not obligations.

Fast-forward to 2005 and you find the specific safety practices and a flexible implementation style in place. The principles of OHSA will change the culture in the workplace as workers gain rights and responsibilities. The relationship between workplace parties will change. The specific safety practices that have been in place for years will continue to be valid.

Agricultural commodity groups felt the industry was over-regulated and wanted a flexible approach to OHSA. Agriculture has long used the approach of educating, informing and advising, followed by progressively stronger actions, to bring compliance from repeat offenders. At the end of the day, all sector regulations carry the same obligations under the Act. The industry needs to live with the Act using this flexible approach for a while to really decide if the collective wisdom was the right decision. As time goes by, we may need to modify or amend parts of the regulation.

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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