Quantitative Evaluation of Microbial Health Risks Faced by Migrant Farm Workers in Canada’s Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program
University of Waterloo
Seasonal migrant farmworkers are temporary workers that come to Canada under the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP) for agricultural work opportunities that include the care of animals and harvesting of crops. These migrant farmworkers face a range of known health threats including gastroenterological illnesses. This research, initiated prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, evaluates the enteric disease health risks that migrant farmworkers face in the SAWP occupational setting. Enteric pathogens pose health risks for migrant farmworkers because of their inherent presence in agricultural settings and increased possibility of exposure considering the occupational hazards and potential for cross-contamination or secondary transmission within on-farm congregate housing. Factors contributing to migrant farmworker health risk were categorized into (1) agriculture environmental factors leading to exposure to sources of enteric pathogens, (2) infrastructure factors contributing to hazardous living and working conditions, (3) occupational factors such as the provision of health and safety training, and (4) SAWP management factors including access to health care. This work novelly integrates modelling and risk assessment approaches from engineering with concepts from public health and occupational health and safety. Risk analysis tools were developed including a transmission network describing how pathogens may enter and be transmitted or controlled within this occupational setting and a risk matrix providing an approach for identifying and evaluating health risks posed by enteric pathogens to migrant farmworkers. Considering irrigation in particular, a semi-quantitative scoring approach formally integrates the effects of severity of contamination, intensity of exposure during work activities, and frequency of exposure for risk assessment. The matrix lists key factors to consider in risk assessment with guidance for evaluating the degree to which each factor may be of concern. This work highlights migrant farmworkers as a population at a potentially elevated risk of enteric disease, emphasizing the need for further disease surveillance and reporting.