Canadian Occupational Safety

September/October 2020

Canadian Occupational Safety (COS) magazine is the premier workplace health and safety publication in Canada. We cover a wide range of topics ranging from office to heavy industry, and from general safety management to specific workplace hazards.

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Page 14 of 51 15 F E A T U R E 15 COVID-19: FOOD FOR THOUGHT With reports of COVID-19 outbreaks on farms and in meat plants, how safe is our food? And most importantly, how safe are workers? The food production industry certainly has a lot on its plate. Ontario and 30 per cent of the agricultural workers in Quebec, British Columbia and Nova Scotia. Many of these workers come from the Caribbean and Latin America, with many hailing from Mexico. Every year, 20,000 migrants come to Ontario. Due to current travel restrictions, by the end of June this year, around 8,000 migrants were active on farms. However, various media outlets reported that, at the end of that month, only 750 workers had been tested. Even more worrying, a reported 470 farm workers had tested positive for the virus in the Windsor- Essex region alone, and at least three of that number had died. At the time, the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) released a statement saying: "This pandemic has shown us how vulnerable these workers are and how little governments have done to protect them. The labour movement needs to be an even stronger voice in calling for better working conditions for these workers who put food on our tables." Ontario Premier Doug Ford also released a statement in June following the alarming infection reports. "I'll go to the extreme, whatever tool I have, to protect the people of Windsor and the food supply chain and the farmers and the workers," he said. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that "anyone doing work, let alone essential work as part of our food chain, needs to feel protected; obviously, in the case of these three tragic deaths, that wasn't the case." Although the federal and provincial governments have rolled out various packages worth millions of dollars to boost agriculture and fish farming, because many workers may not be aware of their rights or may be afraid of being sent back home, they may not feel able to speak up or denounce the allegedly less than optimal, cramped living conditions that could be contributing to the spread of the virus. "Most of the workers we spoke to knew they would fall sick because of their living and working conditions but could not speak up because doing so means termination, homelessness, loss of income, deportation and not being able to come back in the future," said MWAC campaigns co-ordinator Karen Cocq in a statement following a report that the organization released on June 8 regarding complaints made by thousands of migrant workers. Meat-processing plants In fact, it is not just migrant workers and farms affected by these mass COVID-19 outbreaks; many meat- processing plants throughout Canada and the U.S. have been affected, too. In Quebec, in May, 64 employees at Cargill's meat-processing plant in Chambly tested positive for the virus. This amounted to around 13 per cent of the workers at the facility. At the time, a spokesperson for the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union said that 171 workers were home because they were sick or because they had come into contact "I' ll go to the extreme, whatever tool I have, to protect the people of Windsor and the food supply chain and the farmers and the workers." Doug Ford, Ontario premier IS your food safe? Before the pandemic, this question may have entailed different answers, and it may have been posed in different circumstances. However, amid COVID-19 and the ongoing pandemic, this question now raises a whole host of new issues. Under normal circumstances, with current federal and provincial OHS legislation and with strict food production and manufacturing guidelines, workers and the supply chain should be protected. Tasked with responding to a public health hazard most of us have never seen before, the food production industry was thrown into disarray. Now, a few months into the pandemic, what has changed for Canadian food businesses and their workers? Have conditions improved? And what can be done to globally improve safety? Migrant workers and farms When writing this on July 24, the Windsor-Essex region in Ontario has the highest rate of COVID-19 in the province, with 484 cases per 100,000, according to Dr. Wajid Ahmed, the region's medical officer. Ahmed said that the spike in cases is most likely linked to, among other things, outbreaks on local farms. Indeed, in the last few months, outbreaks on farms and in agricultural settings have been a huge issue in Ontario. And these outbreaks have mainly affected migrant workers. According to the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change (MWAC), in 2017, migrant workers made up 41.6 per cent of all agricultural workers in COVID-19 MANUFACTURING GUIDELINES Stagger arrival times/shift times as well as lunch and break times Eliminate high-touch areas or mark them off with tape every six feet, avoid tool sharing Set up thermal imaging camera station at entrance of facility, increase sanitization and hand washing Adjust workstations so as to be spaced six feet apart and provide physical barriers between stations Ensure that workers wear masks when they have to be within two metres of each other Source: Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters (CME)

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