Windsor

More than 700 COVID-19 workplace safety claims made at Windsor-Essex, Chatham-Kent farms

More than 700 COVID-19 claims have been made to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board across several farms in Windsor-Essex County and Chatham-Kent. 

Workplace Safety and Insurance Board name nine farms with claims

More than 700 COVID-19 related claims were made across more than a dozen farms in the region. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

More than 700 COVID-19 claims have been made to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board across several farms in Windsor-Essex and Chatham-Kent. 

New data from the WSIB names nine farms across the region, including some located in Leamington, Kingsville and Thamesville, with dozens of registered claims since Aug. 11. The information pinpoints specific locations that experienced a surge in cases.

At the top of the WSIB list is Nature Fresh Farms in Leamington with 197 registered claims. 

Nature Fresh Farms was temporarily shut down at the beginning of July by the local health unit after nearly 200 employees tested positive for COVID-19. 

The Workplace Safety and Insurance Board sent a list of farms in Windsor-Essex and Chatham-Kent where COVID-19 related claims have been made to CBC News via email. (Workplace Safety and Insurance Board)

Prior to the shutdown, the greenhouse's president and CEO Peter Quiring told CBC News that business owners aren't to blame for the spread of the virus in the sector. 

"Believe me, the farming industry does not want the rest of the country to suffer," he said in June. "This is not our goal, it was never our goal."

According to WSIB, Agriville Farms in Kingsville has the second highest number of claims at 146, followed by Green Hill Produce LTD. in Thamesville with 105. 

Peter Quiring is the president and CEO of Nature Fresh Farms. (Jason Viau/CBC)

Other farms include Great Lakes Greenhouses and Cervini Farms. 

COVID-19 cases among workers in the agricultural sector have accounted for nearly half of all the cases seen in Windsor-Essex. The health unit has said the majority of these cases are among migrant farm workers. Two foreign workers have died locally after testing positive for COVID-19. 

Any accepted claim will provide workers with coverage while they are unable to be on the job.

CBC News contacted the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers (OGVG) and they said they didn't want to speculate on the nature of the claims or when they may have occurred. 

The Windsor-Essex County Health Unit has said it won't name farms or businesses in outbreak unless there is risk to the public. 

The OGVG held a public meeting Thursday to answer questions about the agriculture industry. Many questions from the public focused on COVID-19, farm operators and migrant workers. 

During the meeting, OGVG general manager Joe Sbrocchi discussed how the organization handled the pandemic when it first began. 

"As people were literally on flights here, we were changing things, we were adapting because nobody gave us a playbook,"Sbrocchi said. 

Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers general manager Joe Sbrocchi and science and government relations manager Justine Taylor held a public meeting Thursday and discussed how the organization handled the pandemic when it first began. (CBC)

"So we were adapting our housing based on what the various government agencies were mandating to try and fight this as it was happening and I think that's really important to understand. Everybody means well." 

Another question asked of the OGVG was whether or not the price of produce will increase or has already as a result of the pandemic and the organization responded saying they weren't sure how it wouldn't have an impact. 

As of Thursday, the health unit reported eight new cases in Windsor-Essex, half of which are in agri-farm workers. There are also four outbreaks in the agriculture sector with two in Kingsville and two in Leamington. 

now