January 27, 2021, Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development, Monte McNaughton, and Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, Ernie Hardeman, announced that Ontario is building on its “Stay Safe All Day” workplace inspection campaign, by expanding province-wide inspections to farming operations. These inspections are intended to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at agricultural workplaces by ensuring compliance with health and safety measures. Inspections will also help ensure greater protection for Ontario’s temporary foreign workers ahead of the upcoming growing and harvesting season.
The government also announced an investment of $250,000 to support the Franco-Ontarian business community. Ontario has partnered with the Regroupement des gens d’affaires de la capitale nationale (RGA). Through this partnership, the province will develop a free, bilingual digital platform for Franco-Ontarian businesses to market their goods and services. The platform is scheduled to be launched by March 31st, and will enable Franco-Ontarian businesses to reach more customers, both within and beyond Ontario.
Expansion of COVID-19 Inspections to Farming Operations
This morning, Minister McNaughton and Minister Hardeman announced the expansion of Ontario’s “Stay Safe All Day” high-risk workplace inspection campaign to agricultural operations, including farms and greenhouses. Inspections will ensure compliance with health and safety measures within agricultural workplaces, in order to prevent further spread of COVID-19 and preserve the province’s food supply chain.
Inspections will focus on locations that employ temporary foreign workers, in order to ensure that these workers are better protected from COVID-19 during the 2021 growing season. In 2020, of the 20,500 Ontario temporary foreign workers, more than 1,780 tested positive for COVID-19. Most of the province’s temporary foreign workers reside in communal living quarters on farms.
Actions that will be taken by inspectors to further protect temporary foreign workers this year will include:
- Distributing information and instructing farm workers, supervisors and employers on COVID-19 health and safety requirements;
- Increasing compliance with workplace health and safety laws, including putting protocols in place to ensure hand hygiene, masking, enhanced cleaning and disinfecting, and proper physical distancing between workers;
- Enhancing protection for temporary foreign workers living and working on farming and agricultural operations by ensuring employers are actively screening workers for COVID-19, including completion of a daily questionnaire;
- Providing compliance information and enforcement of public health measures.
Inspectors will also check on engineering controls, movement of workers, whether a workplace safety plan exists, and whether occupational illnesses are being reported. Inspectors may take enforcement action, ranging from the issuing of orders to the laying of charges, in response to any violations of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA). The maximum penalty upon conviction under the OHSA is $1.5 million for a corporation and $100,000 for an individual.