Recommendations on protecting agriculture workers from exposure to the coronavirus have been issued by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Preventing and controlling coronavirus at agricultural worksites, shared worker housing and transport vehicles can present unique challenges, according to a news release. Applying specific disease management and prevention measures can help reduce transmission of the virus, according to the federal agencies.
A webpage dedicated to the guidance is available on the CDC website.
The leadership of the Department of Labor and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is appreciated, said Michael Marsh, president and CEO of the National Council of Agricultural Employers.
“Farmers and ranchers moved very quickly to institute changed operational protocols to protect their teams in the face of this pandemic,” Marsh said in an e-mail. “This guidance is helpful for employers as they strive to ensure their workplaces are safe for essential workers and protect the communities in which their teams labor.”
The United Fresh Produce Association is pleased to see that CDC and the Department of Labor have issued federal guidance specific to agricultural workers and their employers, said Jennifer McEntire, vice president of food safety and technology or the United Fresh Produce Association. “Last month we collaborated with American Frozen Food Institute and Western Growers to address this topic, knowing that protecting workers is a top priority for our collective memberships,” she said an e-mail. “We received input from FDA and CDC, but know that federal guidance carries a lot of weight. We are pleased that this CDC guidance is consistent with our industry guidance, which was developed in part from the proactive measures our members shared with us.”
The guidance recommends employers to:
- Screen agricultural workers for coronavirus symptoms, manage workers who have symptoms upon arrival at work or who become sick during the day, and address return to work after worker exposure;
- Use touch-free clocks and automatic doors, install plastic barriers when distances of six feet between individuals are not possible, and rearrange chairs and tables in break areas;
- Implement cleaning, disinfection, and sanitation protocols;
- Train workers in a language they understand on the signs and symptoms of coronavirus, proper infection control and social distancing practices, and what to do if they or a coworker experience symptoms;
- Encourage workers to use cloth face coverings in certain circumstances (such as when using shared methods of transportation); and
- Provide and train workers on proper use of personal protective equipment through videos or in-person demonstrations.
The document also explains what employers should do to prevent transmission of the virus among workers who share housing and transportation to and from the agricultural work site, according to the release.
In an e-mail statement, Farmworker Justice, a labor advocacy group, said the group is currently reviewing the guidance. “While it recognizes the various vulnerabilities faced by farmworkers during the pandemic and lays out steps that should be taken by agricultural employers, it does not guarantee that workers will be protected,” the statement said. “OSHA must issue mandatory regulations to protect farmworkers and ensure compliance with CDC guidance.”