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New program offers tailored COVID-19 services for Ontario agri-food workplaces

Program provides agricultural producers with tailored, funded support services ahead of next COVID-19 wave.


July 22, 2020
By Greta Chiu


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Source: Getty images

Ontario agricultural operations, including greenhouses, can now benefit from a free, government-funded consultation service to help choose the best options for protecting their workers from COVID-19 and make the most of their investment. Even as new COVID-19 cases start to subside in the province, business owners are being urged to take precautions against potential waves of the pandemic in the near future.

Carried out by experts at Workplace Safety & Prevention Services (WSPS) and tasked by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), the program provides each eligible agricultural operation with two days of personalized consulting and training services to help better manage the risks in their operation. The tailored program also offers a pandemic recovery toolkit on measures for managing the risk of exposure to COVID-19, awareness training, as well as additional resources to support businesses as they implement measures to protect their employees.

Valued at $2,000, each two-day consultation is being funded entirely through the Agri-food Workplace Protection Program. There are 125 spots available for agricultural operators and they’re approved on a first-come, first-served basis, says John Aird, director of strategic integration at WSPS.

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“We’ll go in and we’ll start with an assessment,” explains Aird. The WSPS expert will look to see what’s already in place, how well it’s working and identify areas where operators can better protect employees from contracting COVID-19. Examples include installing barriers or changing up cleaning procedures. Operators interested in this program would reach out directly to WSPS at 1-877-494-WSPS (9777). While the program ends March 2021, operators should take advantage of these services as soon as possible.

“This program comes at an opportune time,” says Dean Anderson, WSPS strategic advisor on agricultural initiatives. “Adopting essential practices now offers businesses long-term value. They’ll be better prepared for the next wave or the next pandemic — something some experts are saying is inevitable.”

While operations may need to make monetary investments to enact some of the recommendations from WSPS, operators can take advantage of another funding stream under the Enhanced Agri-food Workplace Protection Program. It can help cover 70 per cent of the costs, or up to $7,500 for implementing those measures. This includes modifications to reconfigure workstations, such as installing shielding or barriers, as well as purchase of protective equipment, such as masks, gloves and other protective gear, and medical equipment. This can include body temperature remote sensors, thermometers and cameras and COVID-related testing equipment. Businesses wishing to apply for support of these measures under the Enhanced Agri-Food Workplace Protection program must apply through OMAFRA, separate from the WSPS consultation services.

“Maintaining productivity while safeguarding workers, family members and the community from COVID-19 is top of mind for everyone,” says Anderson.