Protecting vulnerable farm workers

Canada’s agricultural industry employs many different categories of workers at different times throughout the year to complete different farm tasks. These workers may be seasonal workers, older workers, new workers and young workers. What’s important to recognize is that you may have vulnerable workers that could be at risk for injury. So what can you do?

The first step is assessing the risks and vulnerability of the workers on your operation. A checklist can be used as an assessment tool to determine if any employees are considered vulnerable or are more likely to be exposed to the risks on a farm than other workers. Ask yourself, is this employee a new worker? Is the employee a newcomer to Canada? It is important not to make assumptions about the knowledge or abilities of workers but instead use the checklist to gain an understanding of the vulnerability of your worker.

A checklist can ask you about the vulnerability of your worker. For example, someone might be not only a young worker, but also a recent immigrant AND a new worker. This means that sometimes, the risks overlap. An older worker could also be considered a new worker. This person may have a lot of previous work experience but it may be their first time working in the agricultural industry.

The following are types of vulnerable workers: young workers (under the age of 25); new workers; females (in some circumstances); recent immigrants; temporary foreign workers; seasonal workers; Aboriginals; older workers; temporary, low-income, part-time workers; or workers holding multiple jobs.

Once a vulnerable worker is identified, it’s important to assess the potential risks that each of these workers might be exposed to and develop considerations for training and employment.

For example, potential risks for a young worker could include physical limitations, a lack of experience, an inappropriate attitude toward safe work practices and ideas of “invincibility.”

Special considerations for training and employment might include: pairing with a mentor, clearly outlining expectations with respect to work hours, break times, reporting structure, and their rights on the job; not overwhelming the young person with information; providing jobsite tours and orientation; and providing an opportunity for the young person to practice new skills and tasks under supervision.

Overall, it’s important to assess your workers honestly. Being mindful of the vulnerabilities of your workers and making a clear plan to address them leads to safer workers.

Another tool available for farm owners employing young workers is the Canadian Model Youth Policy developed by the Canadian Agricultural Safety Association. This policy provides information about the needs and limitations of young workers. The Canadian Model Youth Policy is a voluntary guideline that enables parents and farm owners and operators to plan and talk about keeping young farm workers safe. The policy was adapted from a similar document developed by youth safety advocates and agricultural leaders in the United States.

The model policy advises farm owners and operators to provide a basic orientation program for young workers, which helps introduce guidelines, expectations and policies for work on the farm.

The policy also reviews the importance of supervision, assigning general or specific tasks and hours of work. Young farm workers require the highest level of support during the orientation and training process. The level of supervision of a young worker depends on the individual as competency and maturity levels vary from person to person. It is important to participate in on-the-job, hands-on training.

Being aware of the potential vulnerability is just the first step in securing the safety of a farm worker. Using the information about the potential risks can help you develop considerations for training and employment. A safe worker means an effective worker.

For more information on protecting the health and safety of vulnerable workers in the agricultural sector, contact the Canadian Agricultural Safety Association at [email protected]. Click here for more information on the Canadian Model Youth Policy: Youth Employment in Agriculture.

Canadian Agricultural Safety Association,

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