Farm Safety Roundup, Ep. 5: Creating safe work environments for a temporary workforce

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The labour gap in the farming sector is a pressing issue, and with the physically demanding and seasonal nature of farm work, finding suitable workers is an annual struggle.

In this latest episode of the Farm Safety Roundup, Shaun Haney is joined by Jay Remsik, a health and safety consultant at Workplace Safety and Prevention Services, to shed light on the challenges and responsibilities associated with employing temporary workers and temporary foreign agricultural workers (TFWs) in Canada.

Remsik stresses the importance of employer responsibility in providing training to both temporary workers and TFWs, ensuring they understand their duties, responsibilities, and reporting structures. The challenge arises when dealing with temporary workers who may only be on the farm for a short duration. Remsik suggests that employers could coordinate with temporary help agencies to guarantee adequate training or provide it on the day of work: “some employers that I’ve worked with, they’re ensuring that that training is being provided to that worker or workers that day, or they’re reaching out to the temporary help agency and saying to that agency, we need to ensure that this type of training is being provided to your pool of workers prior to them arriving on the farm, or at the operation where they’re going to be working.”

Language barriers can complicate training efforts, but Remsik offers solutions such as hiring translators or using international pictograms to convey safety information effectively. Additionally, he highlights the potential assistance from local colleges or universities in connecting employers with students proficient in relevant languages.

Addressing the issue of information overload, Remsik recommends breaking down training into three components: Must Knows, Should Knows, and Could Knows. This approach helps manage the training process and prevents overwhelming workers with unnecessary information. “There could very well be an information overload that if an employer is trying to, you know, teach those particular workers everything about the farm, so let’s teach them the Must Knows. What are the general rules and procedures when I’m on the farm in regards to personal protective equipment? Where are the, you know, the emergency protocols, the marshalling area, the first aid kit, the eyewash station?” Remsik says.

The conversation extends to mental health considerations for TFWs, emphasizing the importance of open communication between employers and workers. Creating mentorship programs within bunkhouses, where seasoned TFWs act as mentors to newcomers, contributes to a supportive and welcoming work environment.

Whether farms are utilizing temporary workers or TFWs, the role is critical in addressing the labor gap in Canadian agriculture. Providing solutions for ensuring their safety, well-being, and effective integration into the farming community is crucial.

For practical, actionable tools and resources including lists such as Save time and money: create training videos with your own smartphone, go to WSPS.ca/farmsafety

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