Managing Risk on Farms Open to the Public
Table of Contents
This publication is written for all farm businesses that invite customers onto the farm for such on-farm activities as direct farm marketing, pick-your-own (PYO), on-farm entertainment (wagon rides, hay rides, haunted houses, mazes, pony rides, slides, tricycle tracks, nature walks, enchanted forests), group functions (weddings, corporate picnics, school tours, birthday parties, family reunions, corporate retreats), food service (snacks, catered meals, tea rooms, restaurants, bakeries), and sales of value-added or retail products.
Farms that invite customers onto the farm are often known as "agritourism" enterprises. Agritourism can be defined as the act of visiting a working farm or agribusiness operation for the purpose of enjoyment, procuring a product or service, education or personal involvement in the activities of the farm operation.
There are safety risks and hazards involved with any business venture. Operating an agritourism business is no exception. This Factsheet will identify the types of risks and outline several ways to minimize them. It will also look at contingency planning and preparedness for emergencies. Finally, it will examine ways to transfer risk away from agritourism farm owners through insurance coverage.
Farmers are often very aware of the potentially hazardous areas of their farm. However, visitors, especially those with little or no farm background, may not recognize those hazards. Visitors come to the farm to have a fun and/or educational experience and will often not be expecting too many rules or restrictions on their activities. The difficult task for agritourism operators is to provide farm visitors with an enjoyable farm experience, while protecting them from dangerous situations at the same time.
Farm visitors include people of all ages and physical abilities. They may be in wheelchairs, in strollers or wagons. There may be seniors groups or groups of pre-schoolers. Young children may or may not be adequately supervised by parents or other caregivers. Some visitors may not speak or read English fluently.
In addition to visitors, there are usually hired employees on the premises. These may be full-time farm or sales staff, plus seasonal employees. The training and needs of all employees are also important considerations in your farm's risk management plan.
The best way to start a risk management plan is to first identify all the risk areas of the farm. Take a walk around the property and write down the various aspects of the business. These can be listed according to such categories as physical features (buildings, play areas and structures, roadways, trails, paths), equipment (tractors, forklifts, wagons, trucks), general sanitation, animals, food areas (produce stand, concession, pick-your own area).
Next, try to identify potential hazards or dangers that exist in each area. This includes physical hazards that could cause injuries as well as potential food safety hazards. Walk around the property as a visitor would; look at the property as a young child would. Have a colleague, a non-farm friend and your insurance agent tour the premises to identify risk areas that you might have missed. The Integrating Safety into Agritourism website can help you learn what risks to look for when completing your farm walkthrough.
Draw a map
Take some time to physically map out the farm and all the business components. This is a great tool for identifying the location of problem areas. The map will be useful later when we discuss emergency plans for the farm. It will also be helpful for training staff to manage risk. Mark the location of such things as fire extinguishers and other emergency equipment, as well as phones, gas, water, fuel tanks and access routes.
Kinds of risks
Keep in mind the various kinds of hazards that could occur on the farm, including fires, personal accident or health emergencies, acts of violence, storms, natural or man-made disasters, and spills of hazardous materials (fuels, pesticides, manure).
Consider completing the Agricultural Safety Audit Program (ASAP), which will help you assess your on-farm safety risks. The ASAP manual is available through the Farm Safety Association.
There are three approaches to risk management to be considered. All three are essential to the safe operation of an agritourism farm.
The most important step in risk management is making sure that accidents or incidents don't happen in the first place. While they can't be eliminated, there are a number of things that can be done to minimize hazards. These may include training staff, re-configuring public areas, adding safety features or increasing consumer awareness of specific hazards.
Children love to jump, climb and tumble when they are playing. Farm operators are reluctant to dampen children's enjoyment. But for your farm business's protection, you must make safety your first priority. Below are several partial lists, to get you thinking of ways you can reduce your risks from the different activities you offer your customers on your farm.
Playgrounds and play equipment
Straw, hay or corn mazes
Buildings where the public has access
Common activities within such buildings include food service, bakeries, haunted houses or barns, retail shops, wine-tasting rooms or group function rooms, such as birthday party rooms.
When farm animals are part of the on-farm activity, establish physical barriers to restrict visitor accessibility to the animals. Animals can be unpredictable around large crowds and prying fingers. There is also a risk of E. coli contamination from some animals. This can be very serious, particularly with seniors and young children. It is often safer to have two fences, one about 1 metre outside the other, so that visitors cannot actually touch the animals.
Ponds and streams
Fence or somehow restrict access to farm ponds and streams. Drowning is one of the leading causes of accidental death of children. Farm ponds and streams can be very attractive to children.
If your farm operation uses well water, ensure that your drinking water conforms to provincial safety standards. Your system is subject to the requirements of O. Reg. 169/03 and O. Reg. 170/03 under the Safe Drinking Water Act, 2002. Don't assume that people will purchase bottled water even if it is sold at the farm. Contact the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change and/or your local health unit to ensure your drinking water is safe.
Food service has many specific hazards. In any food service operation, it's imperative to start with information from the local public health units and to take their course on safe food preparation and handling. The health unit will give specific information on such things as the proper refrigeration of perishable foods, ways to prevent bacterial cross-contamination of uncooked and cooked foods, proper cooking and handling techniques for various food products, and general sanitation protocols.
Ultimately, you are responsible for ensuring that any food you provide to visitors is safe, regardless of whether they purchase the food or you provide it as a free sample. On-farm food safety programs can help ensure proper food safety practices and can demonstrate your food safety commitment to guests. In some instances, insurance companies may reduce premiums if you have these certifications in place.
Some agritourism enterprises have alcohol service available. There may be wine-tasting bars, licensed restaurants or special-occasion alcohol permits for functions such as weddings on the property. There are a number of regulations involved when serving alcohol on the premises.
Motorized or moving farm equipment
A number of moving vehicles are found on agritourism farms. These may include tractors, train rides, wagon rides and tour vehicles. In addition, there may also be a number of farm vehicles such as tractors, sprayers, harvesters, gutter cleaners and silo fillers that are part of the production side of the farm enterprise.
Parking lots and roadways
Having an agritourism business with well-placed on-site signs and notices can go a long way towards informing visitors of potential risks.
Excluding visitors from potentially hazardous areas
The use of fencing, locked buildings and other types of barriers to keep visitors out of hazardous areas can be useful tools in decreasing accidents on the farm. Warning signs are often not enough; people either don't or can't always read them.
Probably the most important component of risk management in agritourism enterprises involves training and retraining staff to increase their awareness and vigilance. This will greatly reduce risk situations.
Employees are also important for reducing risks on the premises:
General suggestions for reducing risks
While it is important to take steps to reduce risk on the farm as much as possible, it is also important to realize that accidents or other crises can occur. Being prepared for these emergencies can minimize problems, errors or complications.
Crisis management and emergency plans
In emergencies, people often have difficulty making rational decisions. If emergency and contingency plans are well thought-out, written-out and rehearsed in advance, panic during crisis situations can be minimized.
A crisis plan should include the following:
The sample incident report, below, outlines the basic information that should be included. After an incident (or a "close call") occurs, be sure to review your policies and procedures to prevent a similar incident from happening again.
Visitor Incident Report (Farm Business Name)
Date & time
Farm business name
Customer's phone number
Describe incident (location, what happened, describe injury or illness, weather conditions, if a factor)
Witness's phone number
Other comments (by staff or witnesses)
Procedures for lost or abducted children
Develop a special emergency plan to deal with the report of a lost child or a suspected abduction of a child. First, establish procedures to immediately close off exits and entrances (a tractor, chain or large vehicle can be placed across the exits) and do not allow any visitors to leave the premises. Contact police and allow them to take the lead in the investigation once they arrive.
Mock emergency drill
As part of staff orientation (or annually for returning staff), go through a mock emergency drill with employees so that they have confidence in the procedures. Also, by going through a practice drill, you will see which modifications to the emergency plans are necessary.
All farms should be equipped with a basic first aid kit, and employees should be trained in how to use it. More than one kit may be necessary, depending on the size of the operation. Keep first aid kits in specific, easily accessed locations, and ensure that all employees know where they are located. Check first aid kits periodically to ensure they are fully stocked.
Locate fire extinguishers in all areas with a high risk of fire (e.g., around stoves, deep fryers, woodstoves, fireplaces), according to fire department instructions. Ensure that all employees know where these extinguishers are located and how to operate them properly.
Creating an overall farm checklist
One way to incorporate many of the aspects of risk management on the farm is to create an overall farm checklist. This list should separate out each of the physical areas of the business, the frequency of inspections, who will be doing the checking, who should be doing the follow-up procedures for actions required and what they did to reduce the risk. Review this checklist regularly to help you and farm staff keep hazards to a minimum.
On this page are examples of farm checklists. Create separate checklists for those things that should be checked daily, weekly, monthly and seasonally. Another approach would be to make separate checklists for each work area. Establish protocols for signing off on these checklists and making sure any actions required are completed on a timely basis.
Transfer risk (insurance)
Even though you may be doing all you can to minimize hazards on your farm, if an emergency or accident occurs on the farm premises, there may be considerable costs to the owners and to the business. Such things as spills clean-up, medical bills, legal fees or rebuilding costs can be very expensive to the farm operator. It is important to have sufficient and proper insurance to cover all aspects of your farm premises. Remember, insurance is purchased to protect the farm operator. The greater the risks in the business, plus the more activities and services you offer, the more protection will be required. Insurance needs will vary greatly from one operation to another.
Not all carriers are familiar with the insurance coverage needed by farms engaged in agritourism activities. To find an insurance company with farm and agritourism experience, ask for recommendations from other similar businesses or farm organizations. Insurance is a cost of doing business, and you should consider it when pricing products or admission fees.
There are three types of insurance to consider for an agritourism farm enterprise: general farm insurance, farm market commercial insurance, and farm and commercial liability insurance. Consider the requirements for all three types of insurance depending on the type of agribusiness you operate.
General farm insurance
This insurance covers property damage and liability claims resulting from normal farm operations on the premises. This insurance applies to most standard farm operations and may not cover some of the unique requirements of an agritourism enterprise without special endorsements or additional coverage arranged between you and your insurer. This insurance typically covers such areas as:
Farm market commercial general insurance
This insurance covers property and liability claims that may arise from the commercial aspects of the agritourism enterprise, including:
Farm and commercial liability insurance
In addition to general farm and commercial insurance, it is important to also have sufficient liability insurance coverage for the agritourism enterprise. Liability insurance protects you and your business in case anyone has an accident or injury on the farm premises. In agritourism businesses, both farm and commercial liability insurance are required.
Farm liability insurance will insure claims arising from normal farm practices. It is important to advise your insurance broker or agent of any practices that may not fall within the definition of "normal practices" to ensure that you have appropriate coverage. For example, if your business includes pick-your-own areas, specify the individual crops in the policy. You may also want coverage to pay for spills clean-up (pollution liability) and for non-owned vehicle liability.
Commercial liability insurance is designed to cover all activities that occur in the commercial aspects of the agritourism operation, including retail sales and entertainment activities. It is required to provide coverage for such areas and activities as festivals, weddings, playgrounds, wagon rides, tours, markets, food sales and nature walks.
An important principle for farm marketers to realize is, if it is not listed in the policy, you may not be insured for certain risks, therefore full disclosure is very important in establishing levels of insurance coverage. Ensure that special areas, individual events and agritourism activities are listed separately so they will be fully covered by the insurance policy.
Most importantly, arrange to have an insurance agent walk through all aspects of the agritourism operation with you to develop a policy that is both adequate and inclusive in coverage for your particular business operation. The insurance company may ask for the farm's income and expense statement in order to fully appreciate the degree of exposure it is undertaking.
It is important to be aware of circumstances in which your insurance may not provide the coverage you expected. For example, if municipal bylaws applicable to property use or occupancy are not adhered to, your insurance may not cover a possible claim.
Liability and Waivers
Farm owners need to be aware that, once visitors enter their property, they have a certain duty and responsibility to these visitors and their property (including vehicles).
Exculpatory agreements are important and should be posted prominently at the entrance gate or near attractions. These agreements involve statements on signage such as "This activity involves inherent risk. By participating in this activity, you acknowledge that you are assuming this risk to injury." These agreements are most effective when used in combination with other tools, such as waivers.
In some circumstances, it may be advisable to create a waiver form for certain riskier activities, for example, where visitors are engaged in doing work on the farm or interacting with farm animals in activities such as horseback riding. Waivers must be provided in paper form, for signature by the appropriate person, and kept on file for the appropriate amount of time. There are limitations that apply to the signing of waivers by a minor. In Ontario, a minor is a person under the age of 18 and, generally speaking, a waiver signed by a minor without the consent of a parent or legal guardian will not be enforceable. There are a number of legal rules that determine whether a waiver may or may not be enforced by the courts. It is advisable to obtain advice from a lawyer in this regard.
If you have a farm website, you may consider the use of legal terms and conditions to explain possible risks to prospective visitors. If you conduct school tours on your farm, you might consider using a registration form that outlines the duties and responsibilities of the parties. Such a form can be provided to the trip organizer in advance of the tour. Although these disclosures may not transfer risk, they will help to lay out expectations and clarify duties (e.g., the school is responsible for on-site supervision of children, not the farm owner).
Be sure to seek legal advice before drafting any written legal document, including waivers, registration forms or legal terms and conditions to be used on your website.
Contracts with third parties (i.e., pony rides) - If you have hired another business to come onto your farm, for example, to offer pony rides, it is advisable to enter into a written contract making the duties and responsibilities of the parties clearly understood in advance. In many cases, contractors may also require training specific to your farm, similar to staff. You will want to ensure that the business owners have adequate insurance coverage, including coverage through the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB). Request a copy of a Certificate of Liability from contracted companies and keep it in your records. In addition, inform your own insurance company that third-party services such as pony rides are to be offered at your farm, as it is not uncommon for people who suffer injury to include multiple parties, including the property owner, when filing a claim. Speak with your insurance provider about whether your farm should be listed as an additional insured of the liability policies held by these contracted companies.
Licensed functions - If you are allowing a wedding reception or other group function at the farm where they will be serving alcoholic beverages, require the group to purchase a public alcohol liability policy. As well, inform your insurance company that the group will be serving its own alcoholic beverages.
This Factsheet has been written to build awareness of the potential risks of having the public visit your farm or agritourism property. In addition to providing a few potential examples of risk, the Factsheet includes suggestions to help you develop contingency procedures in case something does happen. It is most important that all farm staff know what to do in an emergency so that the incident is handled expeditiously and properly.
This publication is provided for information purposes only. It is intended as a general illustrative overview only and not as specific advice concerning individual situations. The examples provided are for illustrative purposes only and are by no means exhaustive or appropriate for every situation. This Factsheet should not be considered as legal advice. This Factsheet is not provided as a comprehensive overview of potential liabilities or risks associated with farms open to the public. The Government of Ontario assumes no responsibility towards persons using it as such. It is strongly recommended that all risk and liability concerns are reviewed by your farm insurance provider and lawyer.
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Fitzgerald, Paul. Risk Management Guide for Tourism Operators. 2003. Canadian Tourism Commission.
Hamilton, Neil. The Legal Guide for Direct Farm Marketing. 1999. Drake Agricultural Law Center.
Northeast Kingdom Travel and Tourism Association. Agritourism Onsite Farm Safety Guide. Available at: www.uvm.edu/newfarmer/production/farm_safety/farm-safety-manual-for-webview.pdf
Prim, R., and K. Foede. In the Eyes of the Law. 2002. University of Minnesota Extension Service.
Richardson Jr., Jesse J. Managing Liability: Legal Liability in Agritourism and Direct Marketing Operations. 2012. Virginia Cooperative Extension. Available at: http://pubs.ext.vt.edu/CV/CV-25/CV-25-PDF.pdf
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This Factsheet was originally written by Maribeth Fitts and reviewed by Dorene Collins and Jessica Kelly, Direct Farm Marketing Program Lead, OMAFRA, Elora.
This Factsheet was originally developed with assistance from the Ontario Farm Fresh Marketing Association and in partnership with the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. The current version was revised by staff from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.
The assistance of Matthew Fleet and Josef Pruellage of Hub International is acknowledged in the preparation of the portions of this Factsheet that address risk transfer and insurance.
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