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Farming? Read These COVID-19 Tips

The COVID -19 oubreak is impacting both employers and employees.

In order to ensure you are able to continue to efficiently operate your farm, consider doing the following:

  • Educate employees on limiting the spread of COVID-19
  • Ensure a safe/hygienic work environment - above and beyond normal workplace standards
  • Know the steps to take if an employee displays or reports symptoms of COVID-19
  • Pay and leave entitlements if an employee tests positive to COVID-19

Keep Your Distance

All Australians are being urged to practice ‘social distancing’, by keeping at least 1.5 metres apart from others, and where practical this also should apply in workplaces.

Health authorities advise that COVID-19 is contagious if a person spends face-to-face contact with a person carrying the virus for a period of more than 15 minutes, or if you have shared an enclosed space for more than two hours.

The virus can remain contagious on surfaces for up to 12 hours. Any employee who has worked in close proximity to a confirmed case will be at high risk of exposure.

Good hygiene

  • Clean your hands regularly with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitiser
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue or bent elbow when coughing or sneezing. Dispose of tissues immediately after use and wash your hands or apply hand sanitiser afterwards
  • Avoid any close contact, including shaking hands.
  • Stay home if you are unwell

Staggered food breaks

Consider organising your workers into separate teams or shifts, so that if an employee in one team gets coronavirus, the other team(s) can continue working, thus allowing your farm to stay in production. These teams would need to have staggered lunch/smoko breaks. These teams would work together at all times, in separate areas of the farm, restricting contact with other employees. This would ideally include organising or sourcing backpackers from separate accommodation.

As well as keeping their distance from each other, employees should be urged to avoid sharing any food or drinks.

Transporting workers

If feasible, restrict the amount of workers that travel together on buses and other forms of transport.

Consider:

  • Ensuring workers are not in close contact with each other at all times
  • Have hand sanitiser available on every bus/vehicle and encourage employees to use it on entry and exit
  • Ensure good ventilation, particularly in smaller vehicles
  • Ensure pre-assigned groups travel together and do not interact with others

Reporting illness

All employees should be advised to immediately report any symptoms of COVID-19 or if they have had any contact with a person who has tested positive to the virus. If someone has had contact with an infected person, they must be sent home immediately to begin a self-quarantine period of 14 days since last contact with a confirmed case. Employees should be advised that during this quarantine period, if they become unwell themselves, they should seek immediate medical advice.

If a worker tests positive for the virus, the farm owner/manager is likely to be contacted by their state health authority to establish if anyone else has had contact with this employee and need to self-isolate.

Queensland Health has developed a simple Coronavirus quiz to assist with a diagnosis.  

Symptoms of COVID-19

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Shortness of breath

Key take home messages for employees

  • Avoid close contact with others
  • Clean your hands regularly
  • Cover nose and mouth when sneezing
  • If sick, stay at home
  • Report any symptoms of COVID-19, or any contact with a confirmed positive case

Getting the message across

By now, most farm owners/managers would have discussed the COVID-19 pandemic with staff. However, if you haven’t, arrange mandatory worker meetings/tool box talks, with every single employee. (Keeping in mind the number of workers at each of these meetings, being mindful of maintaining a safe, social distance from one another and emphasing NO close contact at any time)

Provide workers with:

  • Any factsheets/posters that emphasis key messages such as good hygiene practices, symptoms, keeping safe distances. (Links to these are included in this guide) These can also be displayed around packing sheds, smoko stations and other areas of the farm.
  • Information on the location of hand-sanitisers and how often they should be used.
  • Any contact numbers/procedures if a worker thinks they have COVID-19
  • Assurance that all employees will be kept up to date on the global pandemic as it unfolds

Workplace hygiene

Regular cleaning and sterilising of workplace areas is now more critical than ever before.

Ensure:

  • Regular cleaning and sterilising of frequently touched areas, such as work stations, fridge handles, cold room handles, toilet door handles, bathroom taps and meal room table tops. These should be cleaned at least once a day.
  • Disinfectant and cleaning cloths to be left in every on-farm vehicle (including buggies and tractors), to allow for steering wheels and other contact areas to be wiped down and sterilised after each user is finished using the vehicle.
  • Provide handwashing facilities in packing sheds and other high traffic aresa. Make sure these are kept clean and are in good working order.
  • Provide a good supply of alcohol-based sanitiser, tissues and cleaning supplies.
  • Promote good hygiene practices, including posters on display in all undercover working areas.
  • Regularly remind workers of adhering to ‘social distancing’ both at work and in public.

If a worker suspects they have COVID-19

If a worker presents with symptoms of the virus (flu-like symptoms such as fever, a cough, sore throat, fatigue and shortness of breath);

  • Isolate the worker immediately and remove from the workplace as soon as possible
  • Recommend to the worker that they seek immediate medical advice. If the worker had close contact with someone with the virus, they should call ahead to a GP or emergency department advising of close contact, so they can prepare for the visit
  • Collect basic information from the worker to assist in determining other workers that they may have recently come into contact with including; when they last attended a shift, when they started experiencing symptoms, names of other employees they may have had contact with
  • If a worker is confirmed to have COVID-19, call your state health authority for advice. Inform co-workers about possible exposure, but maintain confidentiality. Advise workers to seek immediate medical advice if they develop symptoms or are concerned about their health
  • Any employee that may have come in close contact with an employee confirmed with COVID-19 should be advised to self isolate for 14-days
  • An immediate sterilisation of all areas the employee may have come into contact with should be carried out
  • You can request that an employee diagnosed or that has been in self isolation provide a clearance certificate from their doctor before they return to work
  • If it is found that the diagnosed employee was exposed to COVID-19 in the workplace, the employee may have a claim for workers compensation.

Employee entitlements

Growcom (a registered industrial association) has advised that if an employee is not unwell and you direct them not to come to work, they would ordinarily be entitled to be paid their ordinary wages.

However, if you are required to direct an employee not to attend work to ensure the health and safety of other employees and it is not possible to engage them in meaningful work, the time off work may be considered a reasonable direction, for a reason outside the employer’s control, which would mean the employee would not be entitled to be paid.

In some cases the employee may request to use their annual leave or long service leave, if they are entitled, during a stand down period.

All growers should seek legal or other professional external advice specific to their situation before standing down employees without pay.

WorkCover

Worksafe Queensland has outlined some important Frequently Asked Questions on its website, covering both workers’ and employers’ entitlements when it comes to the impacts of COVID-19.

Some of these FAQs include; ‘Does WorkCover cover my worker’s wages during their quarantine period?’; ‘Do I need to send people home if they have cold and flu symptoms?’; and ‘What safety measures do I need to take to protect my workers?’.

Thanks to the Australian Banana Growers Council for this information

Photo by Spencer Pugh on Unsplash

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