This tip sheet is for employers in the Agricultural sector. It provides an overview of recommended controls to help reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace. It can also help workers, including temporary foreign workers (TFWs), consumers/customers, and suppliers to understand the responsibilities of the sector to help protect them from the spread of COVID-19.
You may also wish to refer to the CCOHS Tip Sheets for other associated business sectors.
Consider the Risks
Each workplace is unique. You need to assess the risks of COVID-19 for your specific workplace, activities (such as process operations and daily worker interactions), and job roles.
You must then implement appropriate hazard controls using the hierarchy of controls (i.e., elimination, substitution, engineering, administrative, and personal protective equipment), including multiple personal preventive practices in a layered approach. Consider implementing a workplace safety plan to identify and implement solutions for COVID-19 associated risks. The plan should address as many aspects as possible.
Take the following into consideration:
Risk of transmission is increased with close proximity (less than 2 metres) and in-person interactions (close-range conversations, touching), generation of respiratory droplets (when speaking, coughing, sneezing, singing, shouting, and during strenuous activities that increase breath rate), crowded or closed spaces with poor ventilation, inadequate personal hygiene practices or facilities, and contaminated surfaces (fomites). Risk of transmission increases further when several of these risk factors are present in the same setting.
When implementing new COVID-19 control measures, assess the potential impacts to existing infrastructure, processes, worker safety, and food safety (biosecurity standards, HACCP, cGMP, ISO). Make sure you do not create new workplace hazards or impact product quality controls. Update existing policies and procedures as needed to incorporate COVID-19 risks and control measures. Continue to evaluate how effective the controls are and make changes if needed.
Here are example questions to help assess the COVID-19 risk factors in your workplace:
What are the main work zones, processes, and job roles?
Where and when do workers interact with others at the workplace (co-workers, producers, deliveries, inspectors, contractors, visitors, members of the public)?
Is there interaction between workers from different shifts, field locations, or cohorts?
How close are the physical interactions? Do they need to be close for certain job tasks? The risk of transmission increases with close and frequent contact.
How long are the interactions? Evidence indicates that person-to-person spread is more likely with prolonged contact.
Do workers stay at a fixed location for their entire shift or do they travel within the facility? Do workers travel and work outside of the main facility?
Where are workers taking their breaks and eating meals?
Are any workers living in congregate housing and using group transportation?
Can barriers be installed where it is not possible to maintain physical distancing?
If required, can indoor ventilation and cooling system settings be modified?
Do workers have easy access to personal hygiene facilities?
How are machinery, equipment, and tools used in the workplace? Are they shared between workers?
How often, by which method and when, are surfaces and objects cleaned and disinfected?
Have the selected disinfectants been assessed for both food safety and effectiveness against the COVID-19 virus? Do they have a drug identification number (DIN) from Health Canada?
Do workers have the knowledge they need to protect themselves and others from the spread of COVID-19?
Could language barriers impact the ability of workers to understand and implement the transmission control measures?
Are you able to assess if a worker may be sick or have been exposed, and rapidly take appropriate actions?
Are corporate sick leave policies adequate to support isolation and quarantine?
Note: Studies of infection in companion, livestock, and wild animals have identified some species that are susceptible to acquiring the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, either from other animals or from people. Susceptibility, clinical symptoms, and transmission within various livestock species (cattle, swine, poultry), and to/from animals and people continue to be evaluated; therefore, caution is recommended. Workers who handle, feed, slaughter, or otherwise interact with livestock should be made aware of this concern, and use precautions against the spread of COVID-19 even if working with livestock who appear to be healthy. Consult with your applicable business association for details and updates.
Elimination (including Substitution)
These types of controls eliminate exposures (at the workplace):
Workers whose jobs can be performed remotely should work from home, e.g., office and support staff not directly involved in on-site operations.
Use remote communication technologies such as teleconferencing when possible.
These types of controls use physical infrastructure to reduce workplace exposure.
They rely on good design and maintenance to be fully effective.
Install appropriately sized and positioned barriers where physical distancing of at least 2 metres cannot be maintained (e.g., between workstations, sleeping bunks, rest break tables, vehicle driver - passenger cabins, and public service coutertops).
Barriers should block respiratory droplets, extend above head height, and allow free and safe movement of the worker within their enclosed zone. Refer to local public health guidance for detailed instructions on barrier design and installation.
Use plexiglass, plastic curtains, or other impermeable materials that are durable and easy to clean and disinfect.
On linear sorting and packing lines, barriers can be placed to separate workers standing side-by side, and across from each other, while still allowing the pass-through of materials at the work surface level.
Poor ventilation can result in virus accumulation in the air. Continually ventilating indoor spaces will dilute and replace the potentially contaminated air.
Make sure that any indoor work is conducted in a space that is well ventilated.
Make sure that food-safety environmental requirements are not compromised.
It is recommended to consult with a licenced heating ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) expert before making any physical or setting alterations:
Make sure that building HVAC systems are properly rated and configured for the types of settings, types of activities, maximum occupancy, and length of time the spaces are occupied.
Make sure that all HVAC systems are well-maintained and functioning at peak efficiency.
Increase HVAC fresh air intake percentage and air exchange rate.
Minimize or eliminate continuous re-circulation of indoor air.
Open windows and doors where possible (consider potential impacts to air temperature and pressure balance).
Consider adding or upgrading air filters. Make sure that HVAC filters are the highest Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) rating that the system can safely accommodate, are well sealed without bypass, and are kept clean or replaced as required.
Consider portable air filtration units with High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters.
Maintaining an indoor relative humidity of 30% to 50% is most effective at reducing virus viability and transmissibility.
When performing HVAC and air filter maintenance, consider that the surfaces may be contaminated with viral particles. Require maintenance personnel wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE).
Air circulating fans can spread virus particles throughout indoor spaces. Make sure that air circulation or cooling fans are not directing air flow from person to person.
Use additional means to keep workspaces cool, such as shutting off heat generating machinery when not in use, or allowing fewer animals and workers into closed spaces at one time.
Other Engineering Controls
Install enough handwashing stations and hand sanitizer dispensers at prominent worksite locations (outdoor fields, indoor buildings and workstations, washrooms and portable toilets, and shared accomodations) to ensure easy access for all persons.
If plumbing is not available, provide a spouted water container and catch basin, with water, soap, and paper towels. Also provide personal-use sanitizer dispensers.
Reduce the number of touchpoints:
Replace round doorknobs with handles and push-plates that can be operated using wrists.
Install automatic doors or prop non-fire doors open. Be careful not to create new hazards (tripping or fire).
Install automatic touch-free sensor controls for water taps, sanitizer dispensers, toilet flush levers, paper towel dispensers, and waste bins.
Install movement sensors to activate lighting and minimize use of wall switches.
Install additional punch-clock stations, well-spaced apart, to reduce crowding at shift change. Consider touch-free methods to clock in, such as electronic key-cards, messaging/e-mail, or roll-call by a supervisor.
Replace soft surfaces (carpet) with hard surfaces (tile, wood, metal, plastic) that are easier to clean and disinfect.
Increase physical distancing between workers by rearranging, removing, or blocking-off workstations, cubicles, and furniture.
Reassign room usage to provide more space. Use larger well-ventilated rooms or outdoor spaces (weather permitting) for meetings and breaks.
Restrict people from entering zones they do not perform work in or need access to (does not apply in emergency situations).
Establish one-way walking routes by installing visual cues showing the desired flow of people through field rows, building aisles, stairways, and to/from goods collection points to minimize cross traffic.
Use signs and floor markings (2 metres apart) to indicate where workers should stand.
Reduce noise levels as much as possible to reduce the need to shout. Consider providing earplugs that block loud frequencies but allow the vocal range to be heard.
These types of controls reduce risk through policies, procedures, and training.
They rely on personnel management and compliance to be fully effective.
COVID-19 Safety Plan
Having a COVID-19 Safety Plan supports existing business continuity processes such as risk assessment, hazard control and mitigation, change management, and emergency response.
A written plan may be legally required by the jurisdiction in which you operate. It may need to be posted, and available upon request from an inspector. Refer to your jurisdiction for instructions on what must be included in the plan.
It is recommended that the plan:
Be specific to the workplace infrastructure, process operations, and job roles.
Lists all of the controls implemented to protect workers and others.
Outline how to respond to a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19, e.g., immediate actions to take such as internal and external notifications, production line shut-downs, and extra cleaning.
Consider what to do if large numbers of workers need to be isolated, quarantined, or will require medical care, e.g., personnel logistics and coverage for absent workers.
Be implemented and maintained by a designated administrator or committee.
Be reviewed and updated frequently to comply with evolving pandemic requirements.
Be communicated to management and workers as part of their training.
Passive screening relies on workers to self-monitor and notify their supervisor if they feel sick or have possibly been exposed to COVID-19.
Active screening requires the employer to ask questions about symptoms and potential exposure scenarios.
Ask screening questions to workers before each work shift, using a checklist from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) or your local public health authority.
A screening checklist should also be used for any visitors, contractors, inspectors, external service providers, customers, or other persons who may enter the workplace.
Record the names and contact information of all persons at the workplace. Record employee work times and locations. Make sure that privacy is protected, and that the information is stored and destroyed in a safe and secure manner, as required by privacy laws. If requested, provide the information to the local public health authority to assist their contact tracing efforts.
Screen for potential exposure to COVID-19 in the past 14 days:
Recent travel (international or domestic)
Contact with a person who tested positive for COVID-19
Community outbreaks, such as at a local store, school, or event
If readily available and feasible, consider implementing routine rapid testing of all workers as an additional active screening measure. Individuals can be pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic but still be carrying the virus and may transmit it to others, which would not be caught through verbal or visual screening. When used regularly, rapid antigen detection tests may help identify individuals who may be infectious early on.
If a worker or other person is identified as having symptoms, or has potentially been exposed to COVID-19:
Call 911 for assistance if the worker is severely ill (such as difficulty breathing or chest pain).
Have them wear a medical (surgical) mask. If unavailable, they should properly wear a well-constructed, well-fitting non-medical mask.
Do not allow them to continue with their job tasks.
Clean and disinfect any surfaces or items that the worker has contacted.
Make every effort to keep them isolated before sending them home.
Discourage them from using public transit, taxi, or rideshare.
Suggest that they stay home (or return home), and contact their health care provider or local public health authority if they develop symptoms or symptoms worsen.
If a worker who lives on-site in congregate housing (bunkhouse, residence) becomes ill, take these additional precautions:
Immediately isolate them in a separate living space or designated isolation area, with their own bathroom if possible.
Notify the local public health authority for further assessment and guidance.
Arrange for food, medicine, and other essential items to be delivered to them, with appropriate precautions for delivery and pick up of items.
Thoroughly clean and disinfect their bunk area. Contain and wash their towels, sheets, and clothing separately as soon as possible. Clean and disinfect any hard surface items such as personal eating utensils and work equipment.
Provide secure storage for the worker’s personal belongings if they must be isolated or relocated.
Develop procedures for contacting local public health authorities for further advice in the event of a positive COVID-19 case.
If the case is work-related involving a worker, additional notifications may be required, contact your jurisdictional OHS regulator and worker compensation board for guidance. Complete an incident report and begin an investigation.
Implement and enforce an indoor and outdoor physical distancing policy.
Keep in-person interactions few, brief, and from the greatest distance possible (at least 2 metres).
Workers should minimize non-essential in-person interactions with people from outside of their immediate household or work cohort.
Discourage unnecessary physical contact such as hugs, handshakes and high fives.
Discourage congregating and crowding during breaks and shift-changes, including in outdoor break areas and weather shelters. After-work gatherings should also be discouraged.
Do not exceed the occupancy limits for buildings and rooms set by your jurisdiction.
Encourage single-file movement in hallways, stairways, and traffic corridors.
Have workers check before entering a shared space such as a work shed or barn, so they do not bump into other workers.
Job tasks that require workers to be in close contact should be modified to allow as much distance as possible between people, and keep interactions few and brief:
Review processes such as harvesting, sorting, packaging, material pick-up and delivery, and maintenance activities.
Consider changes that could be made to the process flow, tools, machinery, ergonomics, or production rate.
In particular, enforce distancing of workers both side-by-side and facing-across workstations, if engineering controls cannot be implemented here.
Implement a cohort system (dedicated teams, crews of workers):
The use of cohorts reduces the risk of transmission of COVID-19 and helps with contact tracing if a positive COVID-19 case is found in the workplace.
Schedule the cohort to work, travel, and take breaks together. Ask workers to only socialize with their cohort.
Do not allow cohorts to mingle.
If living on-site, assign the cohort to the same congregate housing bunkhouse.
If living off-site, consider assigning workers who live in the same immediate household (e.g., relatives, friends, or roommates) to one work cohort or shift.
Keep on-site and off-site workers separate to reduce exposure risk and community spread.
Encourage workers to only work at one agricultural job location.
Arrange buses or shuttles to transport the cohort to and from the worksite,
Discourage use of carpooling, public transit, and rideshare services.
Plan for how workers will maintain physical distance while evacuating or sheltering-in-place in the event of an emergency.
There may be exceptions to distancing guidance, e.g., when providing emergency first aid or rescue.
Good Hygiene Practices
Encourage frequent hand hygiene:
When: before and after the work shift, touching shared items, using equipment and tools, touching their face mask, donning and doffing personal protective equipment (PPE), handling food, using the washroom, etc.
How: washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or if not available use hand sanitizer (more than 60% alcohol-based). If hands are visibly dirty, they must be washed with soap and water.
Do not allow workers to share personal protective equipment (PPE), uniforms, non-medical masks, or eating utensils and glassware.
Discourage sharing of personal items such as cellphones or lighters.
Consider providing each worker or cohort with their own set of tools.
Provide laundry service for uniforms or require workers wear freshly cleaned uniforms or clothes for each shift. Clothes should be bagged and washed after each shift.
Remove communal coat storage areas. If they do not have lockers, provide sealed bins or bags for workers to store their personal items, footwear, and clothing.
Develop a cleaning and disinfection program, with schedules and checklists for each work area.
Follow the chemical product manufacturers instructions for safe handling and effective use. Wear personal protective equipment (PPE) if required.
Frequently touched and shared objects and surfaces should be disinfected multiple times a day.
Agricultural operations should include all tools, farm equipment and machinery controls, sorting and packing tables, conveyor belts, carts, bins, and solid barriers (plexiglass, plastic curtains) in cleaning and disinfecting processes.
Clean transport and farm vehicles between users (keys, steering wheel, gear shift, controls, vents, belts, seats, interior and exterior door handles, etc.).
Clean workspaces, bunkhouses, washrooms and portable toilets, kitchens, lunchrooms, offices, trailers, and other shared spaces at least once a day.
Make sure washrooms have running water, and are stocked with soap, paper towels and a plastic lined no-touch waste container.
Areas with dense concentrations of particles (dust, soil, fruit and vegetable debris, water, feathers, hair, blood, faeces) should be kept as clean as possible throughout the entire shift to minimize transportation of the virus across surfaces and into the air.
Keep solid particles as contained as possible during collection (sweeping, raking, shovelling, wiping). Dry particles can be dampened to reduce their movement into the air and across surfaces. Minimize the power and duration of water spray jets that can cause aerosolization.
Minimize the number of workers in the area during intensive cleaning, and allow time for dry and wet particles to settle before resuming operations.
Remind workers to also clean and disinfect personal devices such as cellphones.
Communication & Training
Communicate all new and updated practices and policies to workers.
Use accessible formats and language(s).
Train all workers about COVID-19, including:
What COVID-19 is and the common symptoms
What to do if they feel sick or may have been exposed
How the virus spreads
How layering multiple control measures helps to prevent the spread
Require that masks be worn at all times except when eating, drinking, or showering.
Make sure that wearing a mask does not create new hazards such as from entanglement (moving machinery) or flammability (open flame or sparks).
Update your existing heat-stress program, as mask-wearing may increase physiological stress during high-exertion tasks.
Non-medical masks are useful in reducing the spread of COVID-19, but are not considered to be personal protective equipment (PPE), as they do not meet regulated testing and certification standards. Continue to use personal protective equipment (PPE) for existing occupational safety hazards and emergencies, as directed by applicable laws.
Non-medical masks must be well-constructed, well-fitting, and worn properly.
There is great variation in the quality of masks available from retail sources. Consider providing appropriate single-use medical (surgical) masks or re-useable fabric non-medical masks to workers.
Modify shift schedules to support both production and control measures:
Split single long shifts (10-12 hours) into several shorter ones with different or less workers to reduce potential daily exposure time.
Stagger workers’ arrival and departure times to avoid crowding and mingling.
Consider dedicating a partial or full shift per day or week to deep cleaning and disinfection.
Schedule enough time throughout the shift for workers to complete their regular tasks safely, while also meeting physical distancing, personal hygiene, and cleaning-disinfection requirements (e.g., without rushing or cutting corners).
Adjust daily staff levels to have the fewest people in the workplace, while making sure tasks can be completed safely.
If there are fewer employees available, make sure essential roles such as trained supervisors, and first aid or emergency response team members are present on each shift. Make sure employees are trained to work safely including when replacing the duties of others.
Adopt flexible sick leave policies:
Communicate firmly that sick workers should not come to work, or should isolate if living in on-site congregate housing.
Designate a process for sick workers to immediately notify their supervisor.
Provide support to employees who are off sick.
Do not penalize employees who must take leave to isolate or quarantine.
Give advances on future sick leave or allow employees to donate sick time to each other.
Workers at higher risk of severe health outcomes from contracting COVID-19 due to existing medical conditions may require accommodation.
Provide mental health support and resources.
External Service Providers
Cooperate with inspectors from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), jurisdictional health and safety, and local public health to safely accommodate their inspection activities.
Limit or reschedule non-essential visits to the site by contractors, supply chain partners, vendors or other visitors.
In all cases where a service provider must visit the farm, perform screening, provide them with hand washing facilities, keep interactions few and brief, maintain physical distancing as much as possible, and have them properly wear a medical (surgical) mask or a well-constructed, well-fitted non-medical mask.
Clean and disinfect the work area before and after the service provider does their work.
Consult with veterinary services before they arrive on-site about their own COVID-19 precautions. Minimize the number of farm workers who are needed to assist, while still maintaining animal handling safety.
Methods of delivery of feed stock, fuel, and other bulk supplies may vary by supplier. Consider scheduling large deliveries during hours when there are less workers present, or arrange for curb-side pickup.
Minimize contact with transportation services when shipping farm produce and livestock.
Additional Considerations for Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs)
On-Site Shared Living Accommodations (congregate housing, residences, bunkhouses)
Discourage visitors and off-site workers from entering the accommodations.
If persons from outside of the immediate household/cohort must enter, then keep in-person interactions as few, brief, and at the greatest distance possible.
Do not crowd shared areas such as kitchens. Encourage workers to take turns or setup a usage schedule.
Each occupant should have their own sleeping room, if feasible.
If sleeping areas are shared, the beds must be at least 2 metres (6 feet) apart, and oriented head to toe. The number of beds in sleeping areas may need to be reduced. Beds might need to be relocated, or additional sleeping areas may need to be built or re-purposed from other uses. Avoid using bunk beds. Protective barriers that can be cleaned and disinfected such as plastic curtains or plexiglass panels can be installed between beds.
Consider closing non-essential common areas, if practical.
Make sure all sleeping areas, kitchens, cafeterias, washrooms, and other shared accommodations have adequate ventilation and are cleaned frequently. Ideally, cleaning should be done at least daily by the occupants.
Wash sheets, towels and clothing frequently. Do not shake dirty laundry. Use disposable gloves and perform hand hygiene after handling laundry. Clean and disinfect hampers and bins.
Use safe food handling practices to reduce handling of shared food and utensils (e.g., do not use self-serve buffets, have servers dish food, etc.).
Workers may not be prohibited from leaving the farm to visit the community; however, the need to do so frequently can be minimized:
Set up direct deposit, internet, and phone access so workers can more easily manage their funds, buy personal supplies, and communicate with family directly from their accommodations.
Arrange with local shops for supplies to be delivered regularly.
Consider selecting a single shopper for each cohort or the entire farm crew.
Use individual transportation when available. Encourage workers to avoid carpooling, crowded public transit, taxis, or rideshare services to limit community spread. Allow off-site workers with personal vehicles to park at the work site instead of sharing group transportation.
If carpooling or using company vehicles is a necessity, the following control practices should be used:
Assess workers for symptoms before they use group transportation such as a bus, van, or truck to get to and from the work site. Anyone that is symptomatic should be isolated. Consult your public health agency to determine the best approach for getting symptomatic individuals to a safe setting without putting others at risk.
If cohorts or teams of employees have been established, then carpooling/shuttles should be limited to cohort members only.
Dedicate a vehicle and driver to each cohort, or clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces after each carpool or shuttle trip (for example, door handles, handrails, seatbelt buckles).
Maintain physical distancing at the greatest distance possible. Space passengers apart using assigned seating in a staggered pattern. Consider using multiple or larger vehicles. Do not allow passengers to crowd together when getting in and out of the vehicle.
The driver and all passengers should properly wear well-constructed and well-fitting non-medical masks.
Use hand hygiene before entering the vehicle and when arriving at the destination.
Maximize fresh air ventilation inside the vehicle, such as by opening the windows (weather permitting) and setting the ventilation to outside air intake. Avoid using the recirculated air setting.
It is important that mental health resources and support are provided to all workers, including access to an employee assistance program, if available.
Note that this guidance is just some of the adjustments organizations can make during a pandemic. Adapt this list by adding your own good practices and policies to meet your organization’s specific needs.
Disclaimer: As public and occupational health and safety information is changing rapidly, local public health authorities should be consulted for specific, regional guidance. This information is not intended to replace medical advice or legislated health and safety obligations. Although every effort is made to ensure the accuracy, currency and completeness of the information, CCOHS does not guarantee, warrant, represent or undertake that the information provided is correct, accurate or current. CCOHS is not liable for any loss, claim, or demand arising directly or indirectly from any use or reliance upon the information.