“As Alberta farms go into the summer work season, there is little doubt that practices and procedures have changed to adjust for the ongoing threat of COVID-19,” says Kenda Lubeck, farm safety coordinator with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry. “Farms are encouraged to outline an exposure control plan for COVID-19.”
This plan should identify the specific health hazards on the farm and outlining responsibilities and risks associated with the operation. Implementing specific controls based on risk assessments will help each farm reduce its risk of COVID-19. Basic controls include:
- Engineering controls such as barriers and partitions or increased ventilation.
- Administrative controls that change the way workers, volunteers and family members interact. They should include policies for physical distancing, limiting hours of operations, respiratory etiquette and hand washing procedures
- Personal protective equipment (PPE) is generally only necessary when hazards related to COVID-19 cannot be completely eliminated by administrative and engineering controls. PPE controls the hazard at the worker, volunteer or family member level. Examples of PPE include gloves, eye protection, face protections and masks.
COVID-19 related PPE
In addition to regular PPE required for specific tasks – grain or hay handling, cleaning, applying chemicals – workers can use masks and other face coverings to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“It is important to note,” Lubeck adds, “that cloth face coverings are not considered an adequate PPE substitution for a respirator. If your farm task requires a respirator or a dust mask, make sure you are using the proper PPE for the situation.”
Cloth face coverings work to protect other people, not the wearer. These masks should be the last line of defense against coronavirus. However, they can help prevent the spread of COVID-19 when workers are required to do tasks close to each other.
Visitors and new workers
During the pandemic, farm visitors need to be safe from expected hazards like moving machinery, as well as exposure to the coronavirus. Follow the recommendations of Alberta Health Services to keep everyone safe and healthy. Develop and follow a visitor orientation covering all hazards, including COVID-19.
Lubeck says that in the case of new workers, it’s important to establish an orientation program to address all hazards, including COVID-19.
“This will help vulnerable workers, volunteers and family members avoid dangerous mistakes and learn new skills.”
Tasks and transporting people
When it’s impossible to maintain the physical distancing between interconnected roles or close proximity teams – working with animals, equipment maintenance, or riding in vehicles together – farms may consider these options:
- Assign people who already co-mingle as a ‘family group that lives together’ to those interconnected roles or close proximity teams.
- Outfit interconnected roles or close proximity teams with appropriate PPE whenever possible or reasonable.
- Recommend individual users place all used PPE items in a pre-planned spot. Avoid unnecessary shaking or tossing of items that could cause COVID-19 droplets to shed, and place the item directly into the trash or washing machine. All potential COVID-19 exposed materials should be washed with hot water and soap that create suds to break down any virus droplets.
- Follow best practices to create a policy on your farm for transportation. Those who live and work together should travel together, rather than travel with others from another family unit. Limit the number of people travelling in one vehicle. Disinfect surfaces often. Keep as much space between people as possible, cover any coughs or sneezes, and if anyone is feeling unwell they should stay home. Create a transportation plan, train your workers and keep everyone safe.
“As a farmer and employer, it’s up to you to make sure your employees, visitors and family members stay safe and healthy,” notes Lubeck, “Now with COVID-19, it is as important as ever.”
“Keep track of everyone that employees come into contact with during the busy season on the farm. That way if someone does become sick, the process of keeping the virus contained is simpler for health officials and farm managers. Create an exposure control plan and follow it.”
All Albertans can download and use the ABTraceTogether mobile contact tracing app on their smartphones to reduce risk of exposure and as added security to any plan.
While farmers and ranchers have many jobs and tasks outdoors, which reduces the risk of COVID-19 exposure, the risks of spreading the virus are very real in all work situations. The only way to control this disease is to be prepared.
For more information on mitigating the risks of COVID-19 in the agriculture industry, view page 3 of COVID-19 publications by industry. For regular updates on COVID-19 in Alberta, visit COVID-19 info for Albertans.
Connect with the Alberta Farm Safety Program: