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Recommendations for worker infection prevention are based on an approach known as the hierarchy of controls. This approach groups actions by their likely effectiveness in reducing or removing hazards. In most cases, the preferred approach is to eliminate a hazard or hazardous processes (e.g. exclude sick workers and visitors), install feasible engineering controls, and implement appropriate protocols for cleaning, disinfection and sanitation to further reduce exposure or shield farmworkers. Until such controls are in place, or if they are not effective, other administrative control measures and personal protective equipment (PPE) will be needed.
Consider screening farmworkers for COVID-19 signs and symptoms (e.g., temperature checks). Uniform policies and procedures for screening workers should be developed in consultation with state and local health officials and occupational medicine professionals. Possible options to screen workers for COVID-19 symptoms could include:
- Screening prior to entry into the work site, or if possible, before boarding shared transportation.
- Asking workers in appropriate languages if they have had a fever (or feelings of feverishness), respiratory symptoms, or other symptoms in the past 24 hours.
- Checking temperatures of workers at the start of each shift to identify anyone with a fever of 100.4℉ or greater (or reported feelings of feverishness).
- Do not let employees enter the workplace if they have a fever of 100.4℉ or greater (or reported feeling of feverishness), or if screening results indicate that the worker is suspected of having COVID-19-like symptoms (see managing sick workers below).
- Encouraging workers to report symptoms immediately, when onsite.
- Encouraging workers who have symptoms to self-isolate and contact a healthcare provider, or when appropriate, providing them with access to direct medical care or telemedicine. Also:
- Coordinating any recommended diagnostic testing with the occupational medicine provider, or state and local public health officials.
- Providing them with information on when it is safe to return to work along with the operation’s return-to-work policies and procedures.
- Informing human resources, health unit (if in place), and supervisor (so worker can be moved off schedule during illness and a replacement can be assigned, if available).
Ensure that personnel performing screening activities, including temperature checks, are appropriately protected from exposure to potentially infectious workers entering the facility by:
- Training temperature screeners to use temperature monitors according to manufacturer instructions.
- Using temperature monitors that are accurate under conditions of use (such as extreme hot/cold weather temperatures).
- Protecting the screener through the use of social distancing, barrier or partition controls, and personal protective equipment (PPE). However, reliance on PPE alone is a less effective control and is more difficult to implement, given PPE shortages and training requirements.
- If temperature screeners need to be within 6 feet of workers, providing them with appropriate PPE:
- Such PPE should include gloves, a gown, a face shield, and, at a minimum, a facemask. See OSHA’s PPE standards at 29 CFR 1910 Subpart Iexternal icon.
- Train employees on how to properly put on, take off, and dispose of all PPE.
- Filtering facepiece respirators, such as N95s, may be appropriate for workers performing screening duties. If respirators are needed, they must be used in the context of a comprehensive respiratory protection program that includes medical evaluation, fit testing, and training in accordance with OSHA’s Respiratory Protection standard (29 CFR 1910.134external icon). 
Workers who appear to have symptoms including a fever, cough, shortness of breath, or a two-or-more of the following symptoms including chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, or new loss of taste or smell, upon arrival at work, or who develop these symptoms during the day should immediately be separated from others at the workplace, sent to their permanent or temporary housing arrangements, or—when they can’t be isolated in their existing housing arrangement—placed in alternative housing arrangements under quarantine away from other workers. (Note: employers should consult DOLexternal icon and DHSexternal icon regulations and/or guidance for any additional requirements or obligations concerning temporary foreign workers under the H-2A program).
Since we don’t know for sure which animals can be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, sick workers should stay away from animals, including livestock and pets, during their illness. Sick workers should be provided with informational resources to access medical attention should they need it. One such resource may be the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) websiteexternal icon which identifies HRSA-funded health centers. These health centers can assess whether a patient needs further evaluation, which may be done over the phone or using telehealth. Individuals may also receive primary health care services at their local health center at a reduced cost or free of charge depending on their economic status. Most people with COVID-19 will have mild illness and can recover at home.
Ensure that personnel managing sick employees are provided with appropriate PPE and training. For personnel who need to be within 6 feet of a sick colleague, follow the same PPE considerations listed for screeners above and consult OSHA’s PPE standards at 29 CFR 1910 Subpart Iexternal icon.
If a worker is confirmed to have COVID-19, owners/operators should consider ways to inform anyone at the work site, to the extent it is reasonably knowable, who has been in sustained, close contact (within 6 feet) with that worker of their possible exposure to COVID-19 based on the CDC Public Health Recommendations for Community-Related Exposure. However, the owners/operators should protect the infected worker’s confidentiality and not identify them, as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).external icon
If a worker becomes or reports being sick, clean and disinfect the work area, equipment, common areas used (break areas, bathrooms, vehicles, etc.), and any tools handled by the symptomatic worker. If a worker is in employer-furnished housing, consider providing a dedicated space for the worker to recover away from others, and then clean and disinfect living quarters, cooking and eating areas, bathrooms, and laundry facilities. Do not allow other workers to use these areas until they have been cleaned and disinfected. A worker going to a home in the community can be provided with guidancepdf icon to mitigate risk of transmission in the home.
Owners/operators should work with state, tribal, local, and territorial (STLT) health officials to facilitate the identification of other exposed and potentially exposed individuals, such as coworkers. Facilities should work with STLT officials to consider the appropriate role for testing and workplace contact tracing (i.e., identifying person-to-person spread) after a worker tests positive for COVID-19.
The COVID-19 pandemic is constantly changing, so employers of critical infrastructure workers will need to continue to reassess COVID-19 transmission levels in their area and follow recommendations from local, state, and federal officials. This guidance does not replace state and local directives for businesses.
Assess and identify opportunities to limit close contact with others (maintain a distance of at least 6 feet between people whenever possible) if feasible. This includes owners, operators, farmworkers, supervisors, crew leaders, delivery personnel, and anyone else entering the agricultural workplace. Engage farmworkers in this assessment process.
Adding touch-free methods (i.e., touch-free time clocks, automatic doors) or rearranging work tasks can help farmworkers stay at least 6 feet away from others. Possible options may include:
- Adjusting workflow to allow for a 6-foot distance between farmworkers, if feasible.
- Installing shields or barriers, such as plastic, between farmworkers, when a 6-foot distance between farmworkers is not possible.
- Adding additional clock in/out stations (touch-free if available) or additional time for clocking in/out to reduce crowding, if feasible.
- Removing or rearranging chairs and tables or adding visual cue marks in employee break areas to support social distancing between farmworkers.
Employers should also train workers to follow protective measures while on breaks.
- Encourage farmworkers to wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- Farmworkers must have reasonable access to permanent and/or temporary hand washing facilities equipped with soap, potable water, and clean, single-use towels (29 CFR 1928.110external icon; 40 CFR 170.411external icon, 170.509external icon and 170.605(h)-(j)external icon). Easy access is especially important in areas where multiple farmworkers are working; increase the number of hand washing stations to minimize the distance to a station and the likelihood of crowding at stations.
- In addition, to increasing the frequency of hand washing, if hands aren’t visibly soiled or dirty, farmworkers can use hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol, rubbing hands until they are dry.
These sanitizing stations should be in multiple locations on the farm, if feasible, such as the point of entry or exit to a farm field, the location where farmworkers clock in/out, and, if possible, in individual containers made available to workers in field settings.
Disinfection and sanitation
Farm owners/operators should develop sanitation protocols for daily cleaning and sanitation of work sites, where it is feasible to disinfect the work site, as well as cleaning and disinfecting procedures for high-touch areas such as tools, equipment, and vehicles used by farmworkers, following CDC guidance on cleaning methods. In addition, they should:
- Follow the manufacturer’s contact time recommendations to make sure solutions remain on surfaces for the recommended time.
- Since children may be present on the farm, plan how to keep cleaning chemicals, including hand sanitizers out of reach of children.
- Choose disinfectants or alternative cleaning methods (e.g., soap and water) for surfaces with which food comes into contact.
Also see additional information from EPA on cleaning and disinfecting workplacesexternal icon.
Conduct targeted and more frequent cleaning and disinfecting of high-touch areas of shared spaces (e.g., time clocks, bathroom fixtures, vending machines, railings, door handles). For example, possible options may include:
- Clean and disinfect break areas between each group using the areas, as well as daily.
- Clean and disinfect locker rooms at the end of each shift.
- Provide disposable disinfectant wipes or other appropriate disinfectant supplies, and required PPE to use these safely, so that commonly touched surfaces can be wiped down, as needed.
- Refer to the Transportation Section below for guidance on sanitizing farm vehicles and implements.
Sanitizing tools and equipment
Tools vary by agricultural production, but examples include handheld hoes, rakes, crates, milking equipment (including electronic components), gates, saddles, and animal harnesses.
- Where possible, do not share tools.
- If tools are used by multiple employees, they should be cleaned and disinfected between each employee use, if possible.
- When cleaning and disinfecting after each use is not possible, daily targeted and more frequent cleaning of shared equipment and tools is needed. In such cases, workers may also need to use gloves when handling shared tools and equipment.
- Dispose of all cleaning material and non-reusable PPE in compliance with OSHA standardsexternal icon to prevent further spread of COVID-19.
All communication and training for workers should be easy to understand and should be provided in languages appropriate to the preferred languages spoken or read by those receiving the training, be at the appropriate literacy level, and include accurate and timely information about:
- Signs and symptoms of COVID-19, how it spreads, risks for workplace exposures, and how workers can protect themselves.
- Proper handwashing practices and use of hand sanitizer stations.
- Farm-specific social distancing practices (e.g., how to move through fields in a way that allows workers to stay at least 6 feet apart).
- Cough and sneeze etiquette.
- Other routine infection control precautions:
- Putting on and taking off masks and gloves.
- Social distancing measures.
- Steps to take if they get sick.
- Employer policies regarding COVID-19 (disinfection protocols, housing and worker isolation, sick leave policies) and how employees should alert their supervisors if they are experiencing signs or symptoms of COVID-19 or if they have had recent close contact with a suspected or confirmed COVID-19 case.
Employers should consider placing simple posters at the entrance to the workplace and in break areas, employer furnished housing, and other workplace areas where they are likely to be seen. Posters should be in all of the languages that are common in the worker population. CDC has free, simple posters available to download and print, some of which are translated into different languages. OSHA provides additional informationexternal icon about training on its COVID-19 webpage.
Review leave and sick leave policies
- Consider modifying policies to make sure that ill workers are not in the workplace and are not penalized for taking sick leave. Make sure that workers are aware of and understand these policies.
- Analyze any incentive programs and consider modifying them, if warranted, so that workers are not penalized for taking sick leave if they have COVID-19.
- Consider additional flexibilities that might include giving advances on future sick leave and allowing workers to donate sick leave to each other.
Promote social distancing
- Consider reducing crew sizes, staggering work shifts, mealtimes, and break times, and having farmworkers alternate rows in fields to facilitate a 6-foot distance between each other.
- Consider placing materials (such as harvesting buckets) and produce at a central transfer point instead of transferring directly from one worker to the next.
- Consider grouping healthy workers together into cohorts that include the same workers each day. This can increase the effectiveness of altering normal shift schedules by making sure that groups of workers are always assigned to the same shifts with the same coworkers. Effectiveness is optimized if it is aligned with shared living quarters and shared transportation. Grouping workers into cohorts may reduce the spread of COVID-19 transmission in the workplace by minimizing the number of different individuals who come into close contact with each other over the course of a week, and may also reduce the number of workers quarantined because of exposure to the virus.
- Grouped workers, as described above, are considered a single household or family. Farmworkers that are in the same shared housing unit should follow the Households Living in Close Quarters Guidance. Owners/operators should maximize opportunities to place farmworkers residing together in the same vehicles for transportation and in the same groups to limit exposure.
- When providing training, consider providing it outside, in smaller than usual groups with participants 6 feet apart.
Source of original article: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) / 2019 Novel Coronavirus (tools.cdc.gov).
The content of this article does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion of Global Diaspora News (www.GlobalDiasporaNews.com).
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