As of March 2021, this toolkit has changed significantly. The following sections are new:

  • Prevention, Control and Outbreak Support Strategy for covid 19 in Ontario’s Farm Workers
  • testing requirements for entry into Canada
  • mandatory quarantine
  • rapid antigen screening
  • maximizing physical distancing
  • transportation
  • housing recommendations
  • vaccines and Ontario’s vaccination plan

Overview

We recognize that covid 19 on farms has resulted in a challenging situation for many farmers and other agri-food businesses and has also had significant impacts on seasonal workers.

You are not alone in meeting these challenges—we are here to work with you to prevent the spread of the virus in the workplace. We will actively support you every step of the way.

This online toolkit aims to be a “one-stop shop” for farm operators on guidance, resources and information related to prevention, control, testing and outbreak management support.

By working together, we can reduce the spread of covid 19.

It is important to note that the local public health unit and Medical Officer of Health are responsible for the public health management of covid 19, including the investigation and coordination of an outbreak response, and providing guidance and recommendations to workplaces. The text of this document does not supersede the advice and recommendations of the public health unit. Individual circumstances may need to be considered on a case by case basis.

Prevention, Control and Outbreak Support Strategy for covid 19 in Ontario’s Farm Workers

In response to outbreaks, the province is implementing a Prevention, Control and Outbreak Support Strategy for covid 19 in Ontario’s Farm Workers to reduce the risk of transmission of covid 19 on farms and throughout the community. It includes access to employment benefits and supports, and new public health guidance.

The broad objectives of the strategy are to:

  • prevent and contain covid 19 outbreaks in agri-food workplaces
  • protect the health and wellness of agri-food workers while respecting their rights and freedoms
  • maintain sustainability and viability of agri-food sector

Controlling the risk of covid 19 transmission in the farm workplace

The health and well-being of every person in Ontario, including farm workers, is our number one priority. And prevention is key.

COVID-19 is a virus that can spread between people, mainly when an infected person is in close contact with another person. The virus can spread from an infected person’s mouth or nose in small liquid particles when they cough, sneeze, speak or breathe heavily. Infected people with or without symptoms can transmit covid 19. The risk may be heightened as a result of having contact with employees who work at multiple farms.

The risk of spread appears higher indoors than outdoors, especially in closed, crowded spaces and during longer exposure periods. This may include activities that are performed while working and/or living in close proximity with others. It is also possible that covid 19 can spread by touching contaminated surfaces.

Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), it is your responsibility as an employer to take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of a worker. This includes taking steps to protect workers from infectious diseases.

All businesses operating during a lockdown or shutdown must create a covid 19 workplace safety plan. This guide will help you use existing public health advice to develop and maintain your plan. It will help you put controls in place to make the workplace safer for everyone.

The Ontario government has recently taken additional measures to protect farm workers during the pandemic by expanding provincewide inspections at farms, greenhouses and other agricultural operations to ensure health and safety measures are being followed. These inspections will focus on locations that employ temporary foreign workers (TFWs) to ensure workplace safety plans are in place and workers are properly protected from covid 19.

A number of resources are also outlined below to help you prevent the spread of covid 19 in the workplace and we encourage you to use them.

Resources and consulting services

Workplace Safety and Prevention Services (WSPS) offer resources and consulting services to help farmers and other agri-food businesses provide safe workplaces, and improve the effective management of the risk of covid 19.

Learn more about COVID-19 resources for agriculture from the WSPS.

You can also call 1-877-494-9777 to speak to a customer service representative or e-mail customercare@wsps.ca.

WSPS is also hosting free webinars on how to develop a safety plan and has posted several sample safety plans on their website. Learn more about workplace safety plans.

The Ontario Fruit & Vegetable Growers’ Association (OFVGA) is maintaining a covid 19 resource library for international agricultural workers and employers. This is a comprehensive list of covid 19 resources to support international agricultural workers and employers in Ontario during the pandemic. Many resources in the library are available in English, Spanish and Thai.

This section will be updated with additional information as it becomes available.

Temporary foreign workers (TFW) and other seasonal employees

You can report misuse or abuse of the TFW program or workers by calling the toll-free Service Canada Confidential Tips Line at 1-866-602-9448.

Testing requirements for entry into Canada

Since January 7, 2021, proof of a negative covid 19 laboratory test result must be presented to the airline prior to boarding a flight to Canada. The test must be conducted within 72 hours of the traveller’s scheduled time of departure to Canada. All travellers coming to Canada, regardless of citizenship, are required to have this proof in hand at the time of boarding. Failure to do so will mean an automatic denial of boarding by the air carrier operating the flight to Canada.

Farmers and operators employing workers from outside of Canada are encouraged to work proactively with their employees to obtain the required test prior to departure for Canada.

Mandatory testing and quarantine

As of February 22, 2021, all international travelers arriving in Canada will be administered a covid 19 test on arrival and will be required to isolate in a federal government approved hotel pending test results. The federal government has indicated that certain travelers such as TFWs with suitable quarantine plans are exempted from the mandatory hotel stay.

Travelers will also be required to conduct and submit a self-administered COVID test on day 8 after arrival.

A worker must quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. This quarantine period is mandatory as per the federal government and starts from the date the worker arrives in Canada. TFWs are not allowed to work during this period. A negative covid 19 test result at any point during the quarantine does not exclude the worker from the requirement to quarantine for the full 14-day period.

If a worker begins to show symptoms during the quarantine period, is exposed to another person with symptoms, or tests positive for covid 19, the worker must begin an additional 14 days of isolation.

Farm operations employing TFWs are expected to make plans to quarantine their workers for the required period. During this time, farmers are responsible for ensuring their workers are made aware of resources available to them, and their roles, rights and responsibilities regarding covid 19 safety, as well as those of their employers and supervisors.

For more information on TFW travel requirements for entry into Canada, see coronavirus disease (covid 19): foreign workers.

The federal government is currently offering funding support through the Mandatory Isolation Support for Temporary Foreign Workers Program.

For more information on TFWs, see covid 19: A Guide for Temporary Foreign Workers in Canada.

Vaccines and Ontario’s vaccination plan

Ontario is distributing and administering vaccines in a three-phased roll-out. Check with your local public health unit on availability of vaccines in your region.

Receiving a vaccine is a voluntary and personal choice. Find the latest on Ontario’s vaccination plan including eligibility and how to book an appointment for a vaccine.

Vaccine availability at Toronto Pearson International Airport for temporary foreign workers

The Ontario government’s goal is to vaccinate as many temporary foreign workers (TFWs) at the airport as possible, pending resources and supply.

In collaboration with the Greater Toronto Airports Authority and Switch Health, the Ministry of Health (MOH) and the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) have set up a vaccination clinic at Toronto Pearson International Airport.

While the clinic is operational, covid 19 vaccinations will be available to most incoming TFWs who wish to get vaccinated prior to their transportation to their quarantine locations.

Arriving TFWs will be placed into cohorts based upon their final employment destination after receiving approval from the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA).

Under the federal Quarantine Act, TFWs are required to undertake a mandatory COVID test upon arrival into Canada prior to being offered a voluntary vaccine. If a TFW does not wish to be vaccinated at this time, they will only receive the mandatory COVID test during the process.

For TFWs who do not receive their first dose at the airport, these workers are eligible under Phase 2 of the provincial vaccination distribution plan.

For more information about vaccinations at the airport for temporary foreign workers, contact OMAFRA at omafra.labour@ontario.ca.

Vaccine resources

Resources and videos for farms and farm workers on vaccines available in Canada, as well as what to do after receiving a vaccine, include:

Temporary help agencies

If you need to supplement your workforce using temporary help agencies, it is critical that you seek workers from legitimate and compliant temporary help agencies. The integration of help agency workers on farms creates new risks for covid 19 transmission and, in some cases, has contributed to outbreaks on farms. Some help agencies are unaware of their responsibilities when it comes to providing safe and fair working conditions. Both employers—the farm and the help agency—have responsibilities for worker safety.

Ask the agency about the measures they are taking to ensure their workforce is safe and make sure that they are willing to provide you with full names and contact information for every person that will be coming on your property. This should include confirmation that workers will only be working at one operation or as few operations as possible. Upon arrival, temporary agency workers should be cohorted separately from other existing cohorts of workers.

Another way of protecting yourself is to make sure the temporary help agency is registered and in good standing with the Workplace Safety Insurance Board (WSIB). This is one indicator of the employer’s commitment to worker health and safety.

You can ask the agency to see a copy of their WSIB certificate or refer to this list of temporary employment agencies (that supply workers to the agriculture sector) that are registered with WSIB as of June 2020 (Excel).

Please note that registration with the WSIB is not indicative of compliance with other requirements of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act (WSIA), Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) or other provincial legislation. This list does not constitute or imply an endorsement or recommendation of these employers by the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development or the WSIB.

Businesses should also be aware that the Employment Standards Act, 2000 has joint and several liability provisions that may mean that, if the temporary help agency supplying you with labour does not pay its employees, you could be held liable for those employees’ wages.

Find out more on what you need to know when hiring contract workers.

Before getting on the farm

Screening

Implement active covid 19 screening immediately for anyone entering the farm. This is to identify and prevent entry to any individual who may show up with covid 19 symptoms so that he/she does not potentially spread the illness to others on the farm. For information on how to do this, read the COVID-19 workplace safety plan guide section on screening.

All workers and employers can be screened using the Ministry of Health’s worker screening tool to determine whether they may be admitted entry to the farm for the day. In order to ensure compliance, consider having a dedicated screener at the entrance to the farm to conduct daily active screening of workers and visitors to the farm and ensure the following are in place:

  • a limited number of points of entry to streamline the screening process
  • screening stations are located at or near the entrance, in an area away from other activities and away from any high traffic areas
  • an appropriate supply of hand sanitizer at the screening table
  • spacing and layout at the entrance so that physical distancing can be maintained while staff conduct screenings (for example, floor markers placed 2 metres apart as visual cues)
  • if physical distancing cannot be maintained or there is no plexiglass barrier available between the screener and the person being screened, the screener should be provided with appropriate PPE

If a dedicated screener is not used, all workers, including temporary help agency workers, must complete an online or paper-based active screening and show a proof of having passed the screening process upon their arrival to the farm.

Do not allow anyone showing or reporting symptoms of covid 19 to enter the farm. They must be advised to wear a mask or face covering, immediately return to their residence to self-isolate, and seek medical advice to determine whether a covid 19 test is needed. Both the employer and the temporary help agency (if there is one) should be notified if an employee does not pass screening. In addition, employers should inform the local public health unit of any symptomatic individuals who have failed the screening at the farm.

For more information on screening, see the Ministry of Health document COVID-19 Guidance: On-Farm Outbreak Management.

Keep daily attendance records and contact information of all workers and visitors to the farm as part of the screening process in order to support contact tracing. A separate screening tool for visitors and patrons to a business is available from the Ministry of Health. Ensure you protect all personal information in accordance with applicable privacy law and in such a manner as to protect personal privacy of employees and visitors.

Provincial Antigen Screening Program

The Provincial Antigen Screening Program is a newly launched program that allows employers in priority settings to add an additional safety measure in high-risk and essential workplaces, to help reduce the spread of covid 19.

A rapid antigen test can be performed anywhere (that is, on-site, at the place of employment) by a health professional. It takes approximately 15 minutes to yield results.

Rapid antigen tests may allow for workplaces to proactively identify cases of covid 19 in asymptomatic individuals that may have otherwise been missed through routine workplace screening. Rapid antigen screening does not replace existing workplace infection prevention and control measures. It adds an additional layer of protection to potentially prevent a person with covid 19 from entering the workplace who would have otherwise gone undetected. Early detection can help to prevent virus spread.

Rapid antigen tests are less sensitive and specific than lab-based PCR tests normally used for detecting covid 19, meaning that results are not as accurate. A positive result on a rapid antigen test is considered a preliminary positive and should be followed up with a laboratory-based PCR test from an assessment centre or a participating community lab to act as a confirmatory test within 24 hours. The individual who received a positive result on the rapid antigen test should isolate until the result of the lab-based PCR test is known.

For employers participating in the program, the provincial government will provide free rapid antigen test kits. Employers will have significant flexibility in the implementation of rapid antigen testing within their respective workplaces, so long as they adhere to the terms of the Provincial Antigen Screening Program agreement, including compliance with applicable provincial guidance. Participating employers are required to enter a small set of data on a weekly basis into a centralized reporting database.

Agri-food employers who wish to participate in the Provincial Antigen Screening Program can contact the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs at omafra.labour@ontario.ca.

Learn about considerations on rapid antigen screening.

Testing

Anyone with at least one symptom of covid 19 should be tested as soon as possible and should remain in self-isolation while test results are pending.

COVID-19 testing is a free and voluntary service to all individuals in Ontario, including farm workers. No one should be discouraged or denied access to testing for covid 19.

The Ontario government:

  • has made sure that farm workers do not require an Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) card to receive a test
  • will cover the cost of covid 19 services for uninsured people who do not meet the criteria for OHIP coverage
  • will waive the three-month waiting period for OHIP coverage for those who qualify

The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs’ (OMAFRA) provides direct liaison services with farmers to understand your specific concerns, and advises on business, financial and technical supports, as well as worker testing options in your area when requested.

Contact 1-877-424-1300 or email omafra.labour@ontario.ca to be referred to a team member who can work with you to access testing options in your region.

Preparation for testing workers

Use our printable resources to help ease your workers’ potential concerns and fears. They are available in English, French, Spanish, Thai and Traditional Chinese:

How and where to get tested

Everyone must get tested at a covid 19 assessment centre or a participating community laboratory and self-isolate while test results are pending if they:

  • have at least one symptom consistent with covid 19
  • have been identified as a close contact of a known covid 19 case
  • are part of an outbreak investigation
  • have been directed to get tested by a local public health unit.

Additionally, the Ontario government offers voluntary, targeted covid 19 testing to individuals from certain high-risk populations, such as agricultural workers who live in on-farm or off-site communal housing, even in the absence of symptoms or identified exposure to covid 19. Those who are interested can get tested by booking an appointment at a covid 19 assessment centre or at a selected pharmacy.

Additional information on testing and how to find the nearest testing location is accessible here.

If many employees from the same location need to be tested, testing centres may be able to schedule a block of time to make it more efficient and easier to coordinate transportation and translation services. Please ensure requests for translation services are made in advance, if needed.

Once at the location, the entire process takes about 15 minutes per employee. Access to information on health and community supports will be available at the location.

When visiting a covid 19 assessment centre, please follow public health measures including wearing a face covering and maintaining physical distance.

A health care provider (nurse, doctor, paramedic) will obtain a sample by placing a swab/cotton tip into the nostril to collect cells and any virus (covid 19) material. This may cause some discomfort, but the procedure is brief.

The sample will be sent to a laboratory for analysis to determine if the test is positive (the virus was present) or negative (no virus was found). A positive test will be reported by the laboratory to the local public health unit to investigate and manage the individual with the positive covid 19 result.

Test results

Typically, covid 19 test results are available 48 hours after the test was done. However, this is not guaranteed and could take longer. Depending on the testing location, workers may be able to get their result:

The testing location will provide workers with specific instructions for obtaining their results following the test.

If an employer needs access to test results, they must obtain consent from the worker to have the test result released to the employer by the ordering clinician(s), or for the worker to share their results directly.

If your workers do not have internet access or are having trouble accessing their results online, you can help them contact the assessment centre or their primary care provider.

On the farm

COVID-19 can be spread by people who do not have symptoms. This is why it is very important to have effective control measures in the workplace.

To operate your business more safely and to keep it operating, you may need to make changes to the workspace and to the way your work is done. Find recommendations and information in the covid 19 resources for businesses.

Maximizing physical distancing

Everyone should keep 2 metres from other people as much as possible. If it is not possible to maintain physical distancing, ensure workers wear a mask or face covering.

Discourage employees from congregating both inside and outside the workplace.

Ensure workers maintain physical distancing (at least 2 metres) while in lunch rooms, meeting rooms and other indoor common areas. Stagger lunch breaks to allow only one cohort to use the lunch room and meeting room at one time. Have strong policies and procedures in place regarding the use of shared spaces and ensure that feedback is provided quickly to users of the spaces. Refer to Meal and break periods at work during covid 19 for more information.

Consider installing physical barriers (for example, plexiglass) where there is close contact between workers.

Remove surplus furniture and supplies from walkways to allow ease of movement while maintaining physical distancing. Use tape or floor markings to cue people to stay at least 2 metres away from one another. Implement a unidirectional flow of traffic through the facility.

Maximize fresh air exchange where possible. Enhancing air ventilation and good maintenance of HVAC systems will complement other public health measures to reduce covid 19 transmission.

Cleaning and sanitization

While employers always have an obligation to maintain clean worksites, this obligation is even more important due to covid 19.

Here are best practices for employers to follow:

  • Enable workers and visitors to properly clean their hands by providing access to handwashing stations and have alcohol-based hand sanitizers available at multiple, prominent locations in the workplace, including entrances and exits.
  • Encourage hand cleaning by washing with soap and water or using an alcohol-based (60-90% alcohol) hand sanitizer, especially before breaks and at shift changes.
  • When hands are visibly dirty, they should be washed with soap and water, and dried using single use paper towels.
  • If gloves are being used, perform hand washing before putting on gloves. Place gloves in the garbage (i.e., non-touch, lined waste receptacles, which should be placed throughout the workplace) after removing them, then clean hands.
  • Ensure adequate supplies are maintained.
  • In addition to routine cleaning, clean and disinfect surfaces or areas that have frequent contact with hands (high-touch surfaces) twice per day and when visibly dirty.
    • Examples of high-touch surfaces include door handles, counters, cabinet doors, elevator buttons, light switches, faucets, toilet handles, hand rails, touch screen surfaces, and keypads.
  • Only use disinfectants with a Drug Identification Number (DIN) issued by Health Canada that confirms they are approved for use in Canada. Follow manufacturer’s instructions and check the expiry date of products.
  • Maintain a cleaning log to track frequency of cleaning and disinfecting schedules within the workplace and in housing provided for workers.
  • Sanitize shared equipment (where sharing of equipment cannot be avoided).
  • Post hygiene instructions in English, French and all majority workplace languages and include pictures/infographics where possible so everyone can clearly understand how to do their part.

Learn about cleaning and disinfection for public settings (PDF), and see Health Canada’s list of hard-surface disinfectants with evidence against covid 19.

Non-medical masks and personal protective equipment

Masks serve two purposes to prevent the spread of covid 19 in workplaces, as source control to protect others from the individual wearing the mask, and as personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect the wearer. Not all masks are suitable for both purposes. The use of masks in agriculture workplace is an important control which should be implemented in combination with other controls.

To learn more about PPE and source control masks, read Using Masks in the Workplace or the appropriate sections in the guide to developing your workplace covid 19 safety plan.

Masking for source control

Masks or face coverings may be worn to reduce the risk of spreading covid 19 to other people. Known as “source control masking,” this is another potential control measure that can be considered, in addition to the public health measures of hand hygiene, physical distancing, reducing the number of close contacts and screening for symptoms in a workplace. For this to be effective, everyone needs to wear a source control mask. When everyone wears a mask, it means "I am protecting you and you are protecting me."

Ensure that workers, volunteers, and contractors who are using masks or face coverings are trained on their proper use and how to safely put them on and take them off (for example, hand hygiene should be practised before putting the mask on and after taking the mask off).

Masking does not replace physical distancing. Staying 2 metres away from other people must be practiced as much as possible.

See the Government of Canada’s guidance: Non-medical masks and face coverings: How to put on, remove and clean, including replacing masks when damp or dirty, among other suggestions.

Personal protective equipment (PPE)

PPE is equipment and clothing worn by a worker to minimize exposure to hazards in the workplace, including infectious hazards such as covid 19. Examples of PPE include medical masks and eye protection.

PPE must be worn when workers cannot be protected through the use of engineering controls (such as plexiglass barriers) or administrative controls (such as cohorting) and may be potentially exposed to hazards such as covid 19.

You should determine whether PPE needs to be part of your hazard control plan. The need for PPE should be based on a risk assessment that includes the effectiveness of other controls and may take into consideration input from the local public health unit (for example, about the level of risk in the community). Although proper use of PPE can help prevent some exposures, it is the last control measure and should be used in addition to all other public health measures.

It is important that masks worn as PPE are appropriate for that purpose. They must also be safe and not introduce other hazards. There may be conditions in which consistent and appropriate mask use is challenging (for example, very hot or humid conditions).

Ensure that workers, volunteers, and contractors who are using PPE are trained on their proper use and how to safely put them on and take them off.

Check a list of over 200 companies that sell PPE such as masks, gloves, sanitizer and counter guards to keep yourself and your workers safe from covid 19. The federal government also has a listing of organizations buying and selling PPE during covid 19.

Cohorting

Cohorts are work teams or crews of people that live together or work together on the same shift or in the same area of the business. Establishing cohorts can help to limit transmission of the virus and identify who has been in contact with whom if a covid 19 case occurs. This also enables farms to identify only those workers exposed to the covid 19 positive employee and requiring isolation, minimizing potential disruptions to operations.

Possible ways to create and maintain cohorts include:

  • Establishing cohorts out of work teams or crews of people that work together. Cohorts should be as small as possible.
  • Breaking your business into zones and limiting the number of people working across zones.
  • Scheduling the same workers in a cohort to work together and/or take breaks at the same time each day. Stagger starting times for different cohorts.
  • Minimizing mixing between cohort groups as much as possible. Each cohort should stay physically distant from other cohorts when possible, keeping at least 2 metres apart.
  • Arranging bus schedules or shuttles to carry the same cohort of workers together.
  • Ensuring that, as much as possible, workers do not work at more than one operation at a time. This includes temporary help agency workers.
  • Cohorting temporary agency workers separately from other existing cohorts of workers.
  • Minimizing movement of workers between farm operations in their region.
  • Using a cohort list to track workers in the cohort for contact tracing purposes.

Farms and other agri-food operations may also have workers living together in employer-provided congregate housing and/or commuting to the same workplace together in company buses or carpools. Workers who live together in a congregate setting are considered a cohort and this grouping should be maintained at the workplace as much as possible.

The following is additional guidance for cohorts:

Do:

  • maintain cohorts at the workplace as much as possible
  • decentralize accommodations as much as possible
  • limit social activities to only those within their bunkhouse or cohort
  • keep the number of workers using common areas as small as possible—only workers in the same cohort should use common areas at the same time

Don’t:

  • assign workers to cohorts with any workers living in a different congregate setting
  • allow cohorts of workers living in different congregate settings to interact within 2 metres

For more information, read:

Transportation

Face coverings or masks must be worn by all individuals in vehicles during transportation.

If possible, workers should be transported in individual vehicles or within cohorts. If that is not possible, maximize physical distancing between cohorts. Depending on the weather, open the windows. Record seating arrangements to facilitate contact tracing.

Clean and sanitize surfaces in vehicles, especially high-touch areas such as the steering wheel, other driving controls, arm rests and door handles.

Additional strategies identified for school bus operators may be useful, if buses are used.

Establishing an employee attendance policy

You should ensure workers do not come to work sick and note increased absenteeism, including those from a third party (for example, temporary agency workers). You should have a clear procedure for workers to notify a supervisor if they are sick.

Keep updated lists of all workers for contact tracing purposes, along with up-to-date contact information including contact information for:

  • temporary agency workers
  • third party employers

Let workers know that financial compensation and leaves may be available should they be unable to work due to covid 19.

Housing

Limiting or decreasing congregate housing

A key intervention to help prevent the transmission of covid 19 is to:

  • identify and isolate positive cases
  • self-isolate close contacts of positive cases

If a covid 19 case is identified in a congregate setting, all workers who live in that setting are considered potential close contacts, based on Ministry of Health guidance for managing covid 19 cases and contacts that applies across Ontario.

To avoid transmission in congregate settings, consider housing standards in which physical distancing (at least 2 metres) and self-isolation is achievable, such as:

  • providing additional or alternate housing
  • considering additional measures, such as private rooms or rooms with the fewest number of occupants
  • limiting the number of people sharing washrooms
  • changing furniture placement to allow 2 metre distancing

This minimizes the number of close contacts, and therefore, if a case is identified within the workforce, fewer workers will be identified as close contacts and most will be able to continue to work.

In shared bedrooms, space should be increased between beds to at least 2 metres. If this is not possible, consider different strategies to keep residents apart such as:

  • placing beds head to foot or foot to foot
  • using temporary barriers between beds
  • avoiding the use of bunk beds as much as possible

Accommodation in isolation spaces

Isolation spaces are used when a worker lives in a congregate setting and meets at least one of the following:

  • becomes sick
  • tests positive for covid 19
  • is exposed to covid 19

An isolation space is a room that allows a worker to self-isolate safely and comfortably. Every worker who tests positive for covid 19, along with their close contacts, should have their own enclosed room and dedicated washroom. Exceptions should be made only under exceptional circumstances, at the discretion of the local public health unit.

Employers of an agri-food facility should anticipate the need for isolation spaces. You are responsible for having a plan in place for rapidly securing isolation spaces should the need arise, along with adequate food, potable water, necessary supplies and other supports. Meals should be nutritious, well balanced and accommodate any necessary dietary restrictions. Workers under isolation should be able to store food in a safe manner.

This plan could include:

  • a house in town
  • a local hotel
  • existing accommodation on-farm

In the instance of a large outbreak and if you are unable to secure enough isolation spaces, you may request additional support. The local public health unit will work with local municipalities and the province to secure appropriate isolation spaces and personal care services.

Housing recommendations

In settings where congregate living is common, there is a higher risk of covid 19 outbreaks. As part of the Prevention, Control and Outbreak Support Strategy for covid 19 in Ontario’s Farm Workers, industry and government have established a Housing Working Group to:

  • develop resources on employer provided housing that will support employers, local public health and other agencies in implementing existing covid 19 related guidance to mitigate the spread of covid 19
  • provide guidance on temporary housing solutions and a directory of companies able to provide such housing

The modular/temporary housing guide, developed with the Housing Working Group, provides guidance on temporary housing solutions for employers who provide accommodation for their workers, and a directory of companies able to provide such housing.

More information on the recommendations of the Housing Working Group will be posted when available.

Case management on the farm

If there are no positive covid 19 cases

You may wish to arrange asymptomatic testing at regular intervals to identify asymptomatic cases of covid 19 as an additional layer of protection.

You must continue to take all the appropriate steps to protect your workers including physical distancing, PPE and enhanced cleaning. Testing does not replace the importance of ongoing adherence to these preventive measures in the workplace to protect your workers.

If there is a single asymptomatic case

Periodically, a single positive case may be identified in a farm worker through asymptomatic testing. In these instances, you should consult with the local public health unit to determine the appropriate management of the case, following the Ministry of Health’s guidance and any other relevant provincial guidance.

Note that even a single case in a congregate living setting (for example, a bunkhouse) could signal a possible outbreak and may lead to declaration of an outbreak, given the high risk of spread in this setting.

If there is an outbreak

It is the role of the local public health unit to investigate and assess possible covid 19 cases and contacts in the community, and to determine when to declare an outbreak. This will involve collaboration with the affected workplace (for example, a farm) and workers. The specific workplace, and any associated congregate living settings, will also need to be considered in declaring an outbreak.

Once an outbreak is declared, the local public health unit will direct testing and associated public health management of all those impacted. OMAFRA staff can help access information on how to get additional supports if needed. Contact omafra.labour@ontario.ca for more information.

Additional guidance for outbreak control measures and roles of the employer, the local public health units, the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development, and the Ministry of Health is available in workplace outbreak guidance, congregate living settings guidance, and COVID-19 guidance: on-farm outbreak management.

Case management decisions are made by the local public health unit, guided by the Ministry of Health’s management of cases and contacts of covid 19 in Ontario and other relevant provincial guidance.

The following are general guidelines:

  • All positive covid 19 cases (asymptomatic or symptomatic) should be isolated immediately upon diagnosis.
  • All close contacts (for example, cohort members) are to be quarantined for 14 days from their last known exposure to a confirmed covid 19 case or from their departure from an environment, facility or setting in outbreak. Any individual with symptoms of covid 19 who is a close contact with a positive covid 19 case should be tested and isolated.
  • If there is a large number of cases, they may be cohorted (grouped together) in a shared isolation space, but the cohort should be separated at all times from all others who have not tested positive for covid 19. This should be done at the direction of local public health.
  • Positive cases should be reassessed immediately and regularly for new or worsening symptoms of covid 19.
  • Active cases (that is, those that may still be infectious) should not work, even if they have no symptoms, until they are cleared by the local public health unit.

Managing cases in congregate living

It is important to understand the living situation of a worker who tests positive for covid 19.

If they live in a congregate setting associated with a farm or in a community setting, here are additional guidelines:

  • At the direction of the local public health unit, if private rooms are not available (or need to be prioritized for exposed close contacts), covid 19 positive cases who are in the communicable period can be cohorted together and stay in the congregate setting.
  • Cohorted groups of positive cases should be in a separate building with separate washroom(s) and not mix with other groups outside of this cohort.
  • In many bunkhouse settings, space and/or facilities may be insufficient to safely and equitably support individuals with covid 19 during isolation. Where this is the case, the employer should work with the local public health units to identify alternative accommodation(s) for isolation of covid 19 positive cases.
  • Cohort-isolation should continue until the cases are declared resolved or otherwise directed by local public health.
  • It is strongly recommended that you support ongoing health monitoring of these individuals to identify any immediate health or other essential needs.
  • It is important to ensure that workers do not leave these bunkhouses except for fresh air breaks (separate from other workers not under isolation) with appropriate physical distancing and masking.
  • Your local public health unit may direct you to secure additional isolation facilities for workers. The local public health unit will help you connect with the appropriate facilities.

If they live in a community setting, self-isolation may be achievable, although many workers may also live in crowded settings in the community.

COVID-19 positive cases who are in the communicable period are to self-isolate at home and that includes self-isolating from family.

If this is not possible, they may have to be moved to an isolation space, such as a hotel. This is done at the direction of the local public health unit. It is important to ensure that these workers do not leave their home and strictly follow the self-isolation requirements (except for fresh air breaks with appropriate physical distancing and masking for source control).

Notifications

If an employee contracts covid 19 in the workplace (as an occupational illness), you are required to report the illness to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) within three days of receiving notification of the illness. More information on how to report the illness is available on the WSIB covid 19 Update page.

Additionally, if you are advised that a worker (current or former) has an occupational illness (COVID-19 or other), or that a claim for an occupational illness has been filed with the WSIB, you must give notice, in writing, within four days to:

  • a director of the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development. This can be achieved by sending an email to MLTSDoccillness.notices@ontario.ca
  • your joint health and safety committee or health and safety representative
  • the trade union (if applicable)

You do not need to determine where a case was acquired. If it’s reported to you as an occupational illness, you must report the case.

Learn more about the requirements for notification for an occupational illness to the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development.

Case resolution

Resolved confirmed cases (as determined by the local public health unit) can return to work and no longer need to self-isolate.

Typically, an individual case will be declared resolved if either:

  • 10 days after the onset of symptoms, if symptoms have been improving for 24 hours and there is no fever
  • 10 days after the positive laboratory test sample collection date if the individual remains asymptomatic throughout their isolation period

For more information see covid 19: self-isolation and return to work.

Other Supports

Psychological, mental health and social supports

We care about the mental health and well-being of farmers and farm families and recognizes they face unique challenges.

In April, Ontario increased mental health support during the covid 19 pandemic. Learn more about the resources available to support mental health and addiction issues during the pandemic (PDF).

To learn about mental health resources available for farmers, visit:

Wage assistance programs

The Ontario and federal governments provide financial assistance programs that you or your workers can access if a public health authority has directed your workers to stop working (self-isolate, etc.) due to covid 19.

Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB)

The WSIB provides wage-loss benefits, medical coverage and return to work services for workers in Ontario. Here’s how it works:

  • If one of your workers is showing symptoms of covid 19 or has been diagnosed with covid 19, they should tell you about their illness, and any medical treatment received, right away and file a claim to determine eligibility for WSIB coverage. Should the claim be allowed, and you continue to pay your staff their wages, the WSIB will reimburse you up to 85 per cent of the employee’s net average earnings.
  • If a worker believes they were exposed to covid 19 while at work, but are not showing symptoms or have not received a diagnosis, they should file an exposure incident form.

For more information, please contact 1-800-387-0750.

Additional information:

Government of Canada

The federal government recently introduced new measures for those who had to stop work because of the pandemic, including a simplified Employment Insurance program and a new suite of temporary recovery benefits to further support workers, including the Canada Recovery Benefit and the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit. For general information about the financial supports available for individuals please visit Canada’s covid 19 Economic Response Plan, or contact the federal government’s information line at 1-833-966-2099.

For information about Employment Insurance, please contact the federal government’s Employment Insurance call centre at 1-800-206-7218.

Leaves under the Employment Standards Act (ESA)

Depending on the circumstances, there are unpaid, job-protected leaves provided under the Employment Standards Act (ESA) that might apply to an employee.

Infectious Disease Emergency Leave - On March 19, 2020, Ontario passed the Employment Standards Amendment Act, 2020 introducing the Infectious Disease Emergency Leave to protect the jobs of employees who take an unpaid leave for certain reasons related to covid 19. This leave is available to employees who are not performing the duties of their position for certain reasons related to covid 19 including:

  • personal illness
  • quarantine or isolation in specified circumstances
  • concern by the employer that the employee may expose other individuals in the workplace to covid 19
  • to provide care or support to certain family members for a reason related to covid 19, including school or day care closures, or due to certain travel-related restrictions

Sick Leave - Under the ESA, most employees who have been employed for two consecutive weeks have the right to take up to three days of unpaid job-protected leave each calendar year due to a personal illness, injury or medical emergency. This is known as sick leave.

To learn more about ESA leaves please visit ontario.ca/esaguide.

Additional resources

We have online resources to help you prevent the spread of covid 19 in the workplace and we encourage you to take advantage of them in developing your safety plan:

For questions on workplace infection prevention and control related to covid 19 infections, employers can contact local public health units.

There are also many online resources available:

Worker guidance:

Displaying easy-to-understand posters or playing videos for your workers is a great way to remind everyone how best to protect themselves against covid 19:

Posters:

Videos:

If you have an immediate health emergency call 911. For non-emergency health questions contact Telehealth Ontario at 1-866-797-0000.

If you believe conditions in a workplace are unsafe or if you or someone else is experiencing harassment or violence on the job, call the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development Health and Safety Contact Centre at 1-877-202-0008 (TTY: 1-855-653-9260). The number operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Updated: September 07, 2021
Published: July 20, 2020