As an employer on a farming operation you should be aware that health hazards in your workplace could lead to occupational illness. Your workers could become ill due to exposure to a physical, chemical or biological agent.

Legal responsibilities

As an employer it is your responsibility under section 25 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act to protect the health and safety of your workers. On a farming operation, this would include providing information, instruction and supervision to workers exposed to hazardous biological, chemical or physical agents.

You should carry out an assessment of the workplace to determine the risk to your workers and develop a plan for controlling exposure to hazardous biological, chemical or physical agents.

Where workers are exposed to hazardous biological, chemical or physical agents, and it is not possible to control exposure by means such as substituting a safer material, or re-designing the work process, you and your supervisors should make sure workers use appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE). Where available, a product label or safety data sheet (SDS) will generally identify the required PPE.

There are many different types of PPE, including respirators, gloves, safety boots, goggles, ear plugs/muffs, hard hats, chaps and fall arrest devices. (See personal protective equipment)

You should instruct your workers on safe handling procedures and proper personal hygiene techniques to reduce contact with chemical or biological hazards.

Notice of occupational illness

If you are advised that one of your workers (current or former) has an occupational illness, or that a claim for an occupational illness has been filed with the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), you must notify certain people within 4 days.

Biological agents

Biological agents include such organisms as bacteria, viruses, fungus, parasites, spores and moulds. Soil, water, organic matter, plants and animals may contain biological agents.

You must instruct all of your workers who come into contact with animals about any transmittable diseases the animals may carry and how to prevent transmission to themselves.

You should encourage workers to have up-to-date tetanus shots.

Chemical agents

Chemical agents can include such things as battery acid, solvents, ammonia and pesticides.

If pesticides are used on a farming operation, you must inform, instruct and supervise your workers who may be exposed and advise them of the appropriate precautions to take.

Where your operation uses pesticides or other chemical agents to treat crops or other farm products, label instructions should be followed.

Additional information about the safe handling and application of pesticides is available through the Ontario Pesticide Education Program administered by the University of Guelph.

No one should work in areas where pesticide 'drift' may occur.

Physical agents

Physical agents include various forms of energy that may harm a worker, for example, heat, cold, light, vibration, noise and radiation.

You must:

  • inform workers about the dangers of hazardous noise exposure and, instruct and supervise them on the proper use and maintenance of hearing protection when it is required
  • identify areas where workers may be exposed to noise levels over 85 decibels for sustained periods
  • reduce noise levels where possible by using sound barriers or by other engineering means
  • provide suitable hearing protection to workers where noise levels cannot be reduced below 85 decibels

You should:

Ergonomic hazards (work design)

Ergonomic hazards are associated with work such as lifting or moving of heavy objects and tasks where there is excessive repetitive motion.

Ergonomic injuries generally arise from poor body posture or position while working, as well as from repetitive motion.

You must provide information and instruction to your workers on proper lifting and carrying techniques. You should also:

  • carry out an ergonomic assessment of job tasks and work stations
  • consider designing the work and work stations in a way that prevents musculoskeletal injuries from occurring
  • develop a procedure for lifting items that are too heavy for one person to handle
  • give appropriate rest breaks to workers working long periods or with heavy workloads

Learn more about ergonomics in the workplace and how the Occupational Health and Safety Act applies to ergonomics.