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Considerations for Agricultural Employers and Workers Related to COVID-19

COVID-19 is the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus (“the novel coronavirus”). Symptoms include fever, cough, and shortness of breath, and may appear 2-14 days after exposure. While the majority of COVID-19 illnesses are mild, it can result in severe and fatal illness, particularly in the elderly and among those with severe underlying health conditions. Federal and State agencies are working hard to better understand the virus, how to control its spread, and how to treat those infected. One of the key things we can all do is to limit and slow the spread of COVID-19 to provide time for this understanding to develop and to not overwhelm the medical system. More information is available at the CDC Situational Summary page. Following are some considerations for agricultural employers and their workers:

  • Stay Away from Produce if Sick - If someone is sick, they should be nowhere near fruit and vegetables that others are going to eat. This is likely already part of your farm’s food safety plan and policies, but this is a good reminder to emphasize and enforce the policy. Make sure employees stay home if they feel sick and send them home if they develop symptoms at work. Consider posting signs asking customers not to shop at your farm stand if they have symptoms.

  • Personal Protective Equipment - Provide your workers with masks, gloves, and face shields as needed.

  • Wash Your Hands - Despite being required by regulations, we cannot emphasize enough our recommendation of having multiple hand-washing facilities within close proximity of the workers with soap/water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Reinforce the importance of washing hands well when arriving at work, when changing tasks (e.g. moving from office work to wash/pack), before and after eating, after using the bathroom, before putting on gloves when working with produce, and after contact with animals. Soap + water + 20 seconds or more are needed to scrub all surfaces of your hands and fingers thoroughly, then dispose of paper towels in a covered container.

  • Practice Social Distancing - By putting a bit more space between you and others you can reduce your chances of getting ill. This might mean limiting or prohibiting farm visitors or reducing the number of off-farm meetings you attend in person. Avoid shaking hands and other physical contact. This also reduces the risk of your produce coming into contact with someone who is ill before it heads to market. To the extent possible, plan work crew activity to ensure proper distancing, such as staggering break times, adjusting number of workers on the line or in the fields, providing adequate time and space for workers to clock in and out of their shifts.

  • H-2A and Migrant Workers - If hires from other states and countries are expected, you can further safeguard your workforce by keeping these groups of workers separate from each other, and from the local seasonal workforce if applicable, for at least 14 days, including in the living quarters. If possible, plan for a quarantine area for workers showing symptoms of COVID-19. As indicated in OHSA regulation 29 CFR §1910.142, local health officials must be notified of any individuals in the housing camp having the disease or suspected of having it.

  • Transportation - Reduce the number of workers transported per vehicles to/from fields, and to/from grocery/shopping/banking runs, to maintain social distancing.

  • Cleaning, Sanitizing, and Drying –Viruses can be relatively long-lasting in the environment and have the potential to be transferred via food or food contact surfaces. In this early stage, there is no indication that this virus has spread via food of any type. However, there’s no better time than the present to review, improve, and reinforce your standard operating procedures for cleaning, sanitizing, and drying any food contact surfaces, food handling equipment, bins, and tools. Remember, cleaning means using soap and water, sanitizing is using a product labeled for sanitizing, and drying means allowing the surfaces to dry completely before use.

  • Plan for Change - Many produce farms are lean operations run by one or two managers and a minimal crew. Do you have a plan for if you become severely ill? How do things change if half your workforce is out sick? If you have not already done so, now is the time to sit down with farm owners, managers and key staff to determine your continuity of operations plan.

 


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