Agriculture and COVID-19 safety
WorkSafeBC is working with workers, employers, and industry associations to ensure agricultural workplaces remain healthy and safe during the COVID-19 outbreak and they continue to be able to produce the foods we need.
We are providing information to workers and employers through inspections focusing on the controls that the employer can use to limit exposure, including maintaining distance between workers and ensuring adequate hygiene facilities. We are continuing to engage in inspection, consultation, and education activities within the agricultural sector to ensure everyone in the workplace are fulfilling their obligations.
For more information from WorkSafeBC, please see:
- Preventing exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace: a guide that employers may use to assess the risks and controls in their workplace.
- COVID-19 health and safety information: general information for all employers and workers about staying safe at work
- Frequently asked questions: answers to questions from British Columbian workers and employers on how to maintain a healthy and safe workplace
COVID-19 safety plans
Every employer is required to have a COVID-19 safety plan that assesses the risk of exposure at their workplace and implements measures to keep their workers safe. If a formal plan is not already in place prior to operation, you are expected to develop it while protecting the safety of your workers.
To help you develop your plan, the pages in this section provide information and resources on keeping workers safe in industries that have been providing essential services since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak. We will continue to update these pages, but you can also refer to COVID-19 and returning to safe operation for additional information, including a template for a COVID-19 Safety Plan.
WorkSafeBC will be reviewing plans of individual employers during their inspections of your workplace. Please be reminded that in accordance with the order of the provincial health officer, this plan must be posted at the worksite. During a WorkSafeBC inspection, we will ask employers about the steps they have taken to protect their workers and to see the plan if it has been developed.
Controlling the risk of COVID-19 exposure
Employers must take all necessary precautions to minimize the risk of COVID-19 transmission and illness to themselves, workers, and others at the workplace. This includes:
- Implementing policies that reflect the following guidance from the provincial health officer and the BC Centre for Disease Control around self-isolation:
- Anyone who has had symptoms of COVID-19 in the last 10 days must self-isolate at home; symptoms include fever, chills, new or worsening cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, and new muscle aches or headache.
- Anyone under the direction of the provincial health officer to self-isolate must follow those instructions.
- Anyone who has arrived from outside of Canada, or who is a contact of a confirmed COVID-19 case, to self-isolate for 14 days and monitor for symptoms.
- Maintaining a distance of two metres between workers wherever possible by revising work schedules, organizing work tasks, posting occupancy limits on buildings and rooms, and limiting the number of workers at one time in break locations
- Workplaces can implement a number of measures to ensure that the appropriate number of people are in each area of a worksite by reducing in-person meetings and other gatherings, and by maintaining an up-to-date list of employees at the workplace
- Providing adequate hand-washing facilities on site for all workers and ensuring their location is visible and easily accessed
- Provide and maintain adequate washroom facilities as required by Regulation 4.85. WorkSafeBC has guidance around the minimum number of required washrooms, washroom facilities where no plumbing is available, and maintenance of washroom facilities
- Regularly cleaning all common areas and surfaces, including washrooms, shared offices, common tables, desks, light switches and door handles
The employer must communicate policies and protocols in place to minimize the risk of COVID-19 exposure and transmission through training, signage, and site orientation as appropriate.
Employers should assess the number of workers being transported at any one time and employ measures to ensure distance between workers is maintained.
- Whenever possible, workers should travel alone in their vehicles in order to practice physical distancing. If that is the case, employers must implement all of the necessary safeguards related to working alone or in isolation, to ensure the safety of these workers.
- Measures that may be taken to ensure appropriate distance include having workers sit one to a seat, with riders staggered to allow maximum distance between them; adjusting the number of workers transported per trip; and increasing the total number of trips needed to transport workers to a worksite. These measures may mean using larger vehicles to ensure maximum spacing or using multiple vehicles.
- If it is not possible to ensure 2 metres of distance between workers in a vehicle through these measures, the employer must consider other control measures, such as PPE where appropriate.
- Employers must also implement a process that allows for physical distancing when loading and unloading buses or other vehicles. Workers waiting for loading/unloading should maintain physical distancing while remaining safely away from traffic.
- Employers should have hand washing facilities or sanitizing stations available to workers as they enter and exit the vehicle.
- Employers must ensure that high contact surfaces within the vehicle are routinely cleaned. These include seatbelts, headrests, door handles, steering wheels, and hand holds.
Worker transportation – temporary barriers
The provincial health officer has advised agriculture employers that they may consider installing a temporary barrier in a bus or van used to transport farm workers. Employers may consider installing something similar to a “sneeze guard” in vehicles transporting workers.
These should be installed in such a way that they:
- are not rigidly affixed to the vehicle, and
- do not introduce hazards, such as restricting the driver's field of vision, means of escape in the event of an accident, or access to controls.
Any changes to the passenger compartment and vehicle used for transportation must still be consistent with requirements set out in Occupational Health and Safety Regulation Part 17. Any barrier installed should be made of a material that can be cleaned and disinfected and regularly cleaned as part of the overall cleaning practices for the vehicle used to transport workers.
Temporary foreign workers
Temporary foreign workers entering Canada are required to self-isolate upon arrival to Canada. Information about self-isolation is provided by the Government of Canada.
The provincial government’s Protecting Farm Workers and Temporary Foreign Workers During the COVID-19 Pandemic document includes requirements for farms employing temporary foreign workers.
On April 23, 2020, the provincial health officer issued an order to all agriculture employers providing worker accommodation. Employers are required to read and comply with this order in its entirety. It includes requirements for employers to:
- Develop a COVID-19 infection prevention and control protocol to reduce the risk of transmission both in worker accommodation and in vehicles used for work and to transport workers to and from their accommodation;
- Appoint a coordinator to oversee all aspects of the protocol, including monitoring workers daily for COVID-19 symptoms and for compliance with the provincial health officer order. The coordinator will also serve as the point of contact between the employer and health officers or provincial infection prevention and control officers; and,
- Arrange for a health officer or a provincial infection prevention and control officer to inspect the worksite, worker accommodations, and vehicles at the worksite. The required timeframes for these inspections are laid out in the order.
The order also contains specific requirements for workers, including requirements for self-monitoring, hygiene, travel, and physical distancing. The employer must post and communicate these requirements to all workers.
The provincial government’s Protecting Farm Workers and Temporary Foreign Workers During the COVID-19 Pandemic document includes information for farms employing temporary foreign workers that may be used in the development of COVID-19 exposure protocols.
Resolving concerns about unsafe work
Workers have the right to refuse work if they believe it presents an undue hazard.
An undue hazard is an “unwarranted, inappropriate, excessive, or disproportionate” hazard. For COVID-19, an “undue hazard” would be one where a worker’s job role places them at increased risk of exposure and adequate controls are not in place to protect them from that exposure.
If the matter is not resolved, the worker and the supervisor or employer must contact WorkSafeBC. Once that occurs, a prevention officer will consult with workplace parties to determine whether there is an undue hazard and issue orders if necessary.
For more information, see Occupational Health and Safety Guideline G3.12.
For more information
Note: The information on this page is based on current recommendations and may change. Content from health and safety associations and other parties is also subject to change and WorkSafeBC has not reviewed this material for the purpose of ensuring it is aligned with our guidance. For the latest guidance, visit the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control for health information and see the latest news from the government of British Columbia.
The provincial government’s Protecting Farm Workers and Temporary Foreign Workers During the COVID-19 Pandemic document outlines recommendations for all farms to meet the orders, notices, and guidance issued by the provincial health officer and additional requirements for farms employing temporary foreign workers and domestic workers. The Ministry of Agriculture has provided additional information for U-Pick, Farm Stand and Agri-Tourism operations.
AgSafe is the health and safety association for the agriculture sector in B.C. Their website has a number of resources, including worker materials in various languages, to assist employers in managing the risk of COVID-19 exposure.
The BC Agriculture Council has a directory of resources from both the provincial and federal level to assist employers with COVID 19.
If you have a question or concern
Workers and employers with questions or concerns about workplace exposure to COVID-19 can call WorkSafeBC’s Prevention Information Line at 604.276.3100 in the Lower Mainland (toll-free within B.C. at 1.888.621.SAFE). You’ll be able to speak to a prevention officer to get answers to your questions, and if required, a prevention officer will be assigned to assess the health and safety risk at your workplace.