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Section 8: Occupational Illness: Occupational Health and Safety Guidelines for Farming Operations in Ontario


The Occupational Health and Safety Guidelines for Farming Operations in Ontario were developed to highlight specific, and sometimes unique and unusual hazards on farms. They were jointly prepared by representatives of the farming community, the Farm Safety Association (now Workplace Safety and Prevention Services), the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and the Ministry of Labour.

The purpose of the guidelines is to help employers, supervisors and workers on farms recognize hazards and determine the ways they may best comply with their obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), and the relevant regulations. The guidelines provide general information to those in the workplace to help them identify specific hazards and dangerous situations. The guidelines may also provide the workplace parties with suggestions to consider in determining how to protect worker health and safety and to prevent injuries.

It is important to understand that the guidelines do not replace the laws that are in place. Employers, supervisors and workers on farms have responsibilities and rights under the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the following three regulations under the Act: Regulation for Farming Operations, O. Reg. 414/05, Critical Injury Defined, R.R.O. 1990, Reg. 834 and Occupational Health and Safety Awareness and Training, O. Reg. 297/13. The requirements in the OHSA and these three regulations must be complied with.

Employers have a legal obligation to take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of workers; and, supervisors and workers must take appropriate steps to identify and address all workplace hazards. The guidelines are a starting point for the workplace parties to think about how to fulfill their obligations under the OHSA. Following the recommendations suggested in these guidelines does not relieve the workplace parties of their obligations to comply with the OHSA.

This is the first edition of the guidelines. They will be reviewed and updated on an ongoing basis, as needed, and expanded as new production methods and technologies emerge.

In addition to safety hazards on a farm, such as tractors, harvesters or balers, there are also health hazards that can cause a work-related disease. The main workplace health hazards are biological, chemical and physical agents. Exposure to such agents can have serious and immediate consequences; or, they can cause long-term, chronic conditions.

This section covers the following topics:


Occupational Illness:
A condition that results from exposure in a workplace to a physical, chemical or biological agent to the extent that the normal physiological mechanisms are affected and the health of the worker is impaired. It includes an occupational disease for which a worker is entitled to benefits under the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, 1997.
Biological agents
include such organisms as bacteria, viruses, fungus, parasites, spores and moulds. They may be found in or on soil, water, organic matter, plants and animals.
Chemical agents
can include such things as battery acid, solvents, ammonia and pesticides.
Physical agents
include various forms of energy that may harm a worker, for example, heat, cold, light, vibration, noise and radiation.
Ergonomic hazards
are associated with work such as lifting or moving of heavy objects and tasks where there is excessive repetitive motion.
Personal protective equipment(PPE)
is used to reduce or prevent a worker's exposure to health and safety hazards. There are many different types of PPE including respirators, gloves, safety boots, goggles, ear plugs/muffs, hard hats, chaps and fall arrest devices. (See Guideline on Personal Protective Equipment)

General Responsibilities

  1. The employer shall provide information, instruction and supervision to workers exposed to hazardous biological, chemical or physical agents.
  2. The employer should carry out an assessment of the workplace and determine the risk that workers will be exposed to hazardous biological, chemical or physical agents and develop a plan for controlling worker exposure.
  3. 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, the employer and supervisor should ensure the use of appropriate personal protective equipment. For chemical agents, the protective equipment required will generally be identified on either the product label or material safety data sheet, where available.
  4. The employer should instruct workers on safe handling procedures and proper personal hygiene techniques to minimize contact with chemical or biological hazards.

Biological Agents

  1. The employer shall instruct all workers who come into contact with animals about any transmittable diseases the animals may carry and how to prevent transmission to themselves.
  2. The employer should encourage workers to have up-to-date tetanus shots.

Chemical Agents

  1. If pesticides are used on a farming operation, the employer shall inform, instruct and supervise workers who may be exposed and advise them of the appropriate precautions to be taken.
  2. Workers should be kept away from areas where pesticide drift may occur.
  3. Where pesticides or other chemical agents are used to treat crops or other farm products, label instructions should be followed, including the observance and posting of re-entry times for workers. Additional information about the safe handling and application of pesticides is available through the Ontario Pesticide Education Program administered by the University of Guelph.

Physical Agents

  1. The employer shall inform workers about the dangers of hazardous noise exposure and instruct and supervise workers on the proper use and maintenance of hearing protection when it is required.
  2. The employer should identify areas where workers may be exposed to noise levels over 85 decibels for sustained periods.
  3. The employer should reduce noise levels where possible by using sound barriers, ensuring equipment is maintained or, by other engineering means.
  4. Where noise levels cannot be reduced below 85 decibels, appropriate hearing protection should be provided to the workers who are exposed.
  5. Radiation from the sun can lead to skin cancer. Heat from the sun may also lead to heat stroke and heat exhaustion. The employer should inform workers about the hazards and instruct them on how to protect themselves.
  6. Vibration transferred from hand-operated tools and equipment (for example, a chain saw) can lead to white finger disease. The employer should inform workers about the hazards associated with exposure to vibration and inform workers on how to protect themselves.

Ergonomic Hazards (work design)

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

  1. The employer should carry out an ergonomic assessment of job tasks and work stations and consider designing the work and work stations in a way that prevents musculoskeletal injuries from occurring.
  2. The employer shall provide information and instruction to workers on proper lifting and carrying techniques.
  3. The employer should develop a procedure for lifting items that are too heavy for one person to handle.
  4. The employer should give appropriate rest breaks to workers working long periods or with heavy workloads.