SHARED RESPONSIBILITIES IN IDENTIFYING WORKPLACE HAZARDS
January 24, 2008 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 to develop solutions. To balance the employer’s general right to direct the workforce and control the production process in the workplace, the Act gives four basic rights to workers.
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 to develop solutions. To balance the employer’s general right to direct the workforce and control the production process in the workplace, the Act gives four basic rights to workers:
• The right to participate in identifying and resolving health and safety concerns.
• The right to know about hazards.
• The right to refuse unsafe work.
• The right to stop work in very specific circumstances.
Identifying hazards in the workplace has become a responsibility of workers and employers alike. How can farmers be sure they have identified all hazards in the workplace? There are two key ways to evaluate greenhouses or other farm workplaces: Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) and the Agricultural Safety Audit Program (ASAP).
WHMIS, a comprehensive system for management of hazardous chemicals, was developed in 1988. Suppliers, employers and workers have their own responsibilities to help reduce the likelihood of disease and/or injury in the workplace from hazardous materials.
The three key elements of delivering information are through:
• Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS).
• Training and continuing education.
A series of controlled products are identified by international symbols which include compressed gas, flammable/combustible, oxidizing/explosive, poisonous (immediate, toxic over long term, bio-hazardous), corrosive and dangerous reaction. Proper labels provide information about the material. MSDS are technical documents that provide information on how to safely handle hazardous materials, how to respond to emergencies, and how to handle cleanups.
Training people on the material is pivotal to making it work. The Farming Operations Regulation 414/05 does not obligate farms to use WHMIS. But the obligation for hazard identification still remains under the Act. WHMIS is clearly one of the best and best-known systems to accomplish this goal. The Farm Safety Association uses WHMIS as one of its key tools in hazard identification and safe handling procedures.
ASAP is a “hazard identification checklist and action plan” to minimize the risk of injuries on the farm. ASAP has been in the farm community for roughly 10 years as a self-evaluation process. It is no coincidence that it incorporates many of the key items found in the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
Although OHSA had not been applied to farms until June 30 of this year, many of the concepts have been the basis for recommendations over the years. It uses a three-step process; inspect/identify hazards, assess the risk, and finally, take action to correct. Checklists exist for:
• Standards and procedures.
• Education and training.
• First aid inspection.
ASAP then goes on to apply the three-step process to evaluate the physical conditions and work practices on a number of workplace items, including: self-propelled equipment (tractors, skid steers, forklifts etc.); transport vehicles (trucks, buses or modified); PTO-driven equipment; general machinery; buildings (greenhouses, sheds, packing barns, warehouses, controlled atmosphere storage); yards and driveways; electrical safety; confined spaces; pesticide storage and handling; fire prevention; and ladder safety.
The Farming Operations Regulation does not specify how a farmer is to identify hazards. That allows for some flexibility. If you are looking for recommendations as to how best to identify hazards, then the combination of WHMIS and ASAP are two very practical and frequently used standards.
RIGHT TO REFUSE UNSAFE WORK
Initially, this worker right provided some anxiety. Once the industry understood the protocol required and reviewed the Ministry of Labour (MOL) data on the number of claims, those concerns disappeared. A worker can refuse to work if he or she has reason to believe a machine, equipment or tool they are to use is likely to endanger them, or the workplace is likely to endanger them or another worker.
Once notified, the employer must investigate the situation in the presence of the worker (and the Health and Safety representative or Joint Health and Safety Committee). This is known as “Stage 1.”
The large majority of refusals are resolved within the workplace. If the refusal is not resolved, then the Ministry of Labour should investigate (“Stage 2”). While waiting for the MOL inspector, another worker can be asked to do the work once they are informed about the refusal. The worker is protected against possible employer reprisal, even if the situation is deemed safe by MOL.
In Ontario, there are some 6.3 million workers in some 350,000 work sites. On average, there are about 350 second stage work refusals investigations in the province each year.
AGRICULTURAL INJURIES AND FATALITIES
Whenever statistics are used, they are always open to interpretation. When looking at farm injury and fatalities, there are two key sources. First, there is the Canadian Agricultural Injury Surveillance Program, which reviewed hospitalized cases for an 11-year period beginning in 1990. The second is from the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board.
Understanding where the health and safety problems really exist is important when trying to prevent injury. In farming, there are some extremely high-risk situations, but that does not mean that these are where the injuries occur. Farming does a good job of managing some of those high-risk circumstances. Rather than list endless volumes of numbers some interpretation of those numbers is provided.
• Ontario has 20-25 farm fatalities each year. Typically 2-4 of those fatalities are hired workers, while the remainder are employers or family members of employers. A number of those family related fatalities are people outside the normal work ages of 15 to 59. This reflects the very strong family orientation in the industry. It also reflects the culture in rural Ontario where the residence is part and parcel of the workplace.
• Some 70 per cent of fatalities and injuries are machine related, with tractor accidents comprising 45 per cent of the totals, and ‘other machinery’ about 25 per cent.
• Harvest period sees more fatalities and injuries than other periods.
• There is no clear pattern in the annual number of fatalities.
Within the “other” group, you would see incidents like toxic substance, caught under object (non-machine), fire, temperature extremes, drowning, electrocution, etc. When you study Workplace Safety and Insurance Board information, you consider not just the number of incidents, but also the associated insurance costs. It is not always the traumatic injury that impacts the industry the most.
Greenhouses fall under two rate groups (167 for vegetables and 181 for flowers). In both cases, the musculoskeletal injuries are significant. These tend to be the sprains, strains and repetitive movement problems.
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 or 800-698-0113, fax 519-836-7529, or Ken@fco.on.ca
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