While agriculture and related industries are considered “critical” and will not be shut down during the Governor’s ‘stay at home’ order, it’s important to remember that it’s not just another day on the farm or ranch. Agriculture is open for business but farmers, ranchers, employees and families are not immune. COVID-19 is affecting us all, and everyone must do their best to prevent it’s spread, particularly in work places that are continuing to operate during this time.
Health and safety has always been a priority for agriculture. When producing food, it’s important that hygiene and safety standards are high. However, COVID-19 is an incredibly contagious virus and it’s important that employees who must go to work are protected from infection. It is important to adhere to the Center for Disease Control, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and other experts.
Whether your operation is made up of a husband and wife, ten employees or fifty, it’s important to practice appropriate hygiene and implement safety measures to avoid infection. Your workplace is not immune to this virus, and it’s important to take steps to maintain a healthy environment, including:
- Provide information about Coronavirus with your employees
- Share the following resources with employees or direct employees to the state website (covid19.colorado.gov) or the CDC (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html).
- Use www.AgisOpen.com to share information about the agriculture industry during this time.
- Actively encourage sick employees to stay home
- Employees who have symptoms of acute respiratory illness are recommended to stay home and not come to work until they are free of fever (100.4° F or greater using an oral thermometer), signs of a fever, and any other symptoms for at least 24 hours, without the use of fever-reducing or other symptom-altering medicines (e.g., cough suppressants). Employees should notify their supervisor and stay home if they are sick.
- Ensure that sick-leave policies are flexible and consistent with public health guidance and that employees are aware of these policies.
- Talk with companies that provide your business with contract or temporary employees about the importance of sick employees staying home and encourage them to develop non-punitive leave policies.
- Do not require a healthcare provider’s note for employees who are sick with acute respiratory illness to validate their illness or to return to work, as healthcare provider offices and medical facilities may be extremely busy and not able to provide such documentation in a timely way.
- Employers should maintain flexible policies that permit employees to stay home to care for a sick family member. Employers should be aware that more employees may need to stay at home to care for sick children or other sick family members than is usual.
- Separate sick employees:
- CDC recommends that employees who appear to have acute respiratory illness symptoms (i.e., cough, shortness of breath) upon arrival to work or become sick during the day should be separated from other employees and be sent home immediately. Sick employees should cover their noses and mouths with a tissue when coughing or sneezing (or an elbow or shoulder if no tissue is available).
- Emphasize staying home when sick, respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene by all employees:
- Place posters that encourage staying home when sick, cough and sneeze etiquette, and hand hygiene at the entrance to your workplace and in other workplace areas where they are likely to be seen.
- Provide tissues and no-touch disposal receptacles for use by employees.
- Instruct employees to clean their hands often with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60-95% alcohol or wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Soap and water should be used preferentially if hands are visibly dirty.
- Provide soap and water and alcohol-based hand rubs in the workplace. Ensure that adequate supplies are maintained. Place hand rubs in multiple locations or in conference rooms to encourage hand hygiene.
- Perform routine environmental cleaning:
- Routinely clean all frequently touched surfaces in the workplace, such as workstations, countertops, and doorknobs. Use the cleaning agents that are usually used in these areas and follow the directions on the label.
- No additional disinfection beyond routine cleaning is recommended at this time.
- Provide disposable wipes so that commonly used surfaces (for example, doorknobs, keyboards, remote controls, desks) can be wiped down by employees before each use.
- Additional Measures in Response to Currently Occurring Sporadic Importations of the COVID-19:
- Employees who are well but who have a sick family member at home with COVID-19 should notify their supervisor and refer to CDC guidance for how to conduct a risk assessment of their potential exposure.
- If an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19, employers should inform fellow employees of their possible exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace but maintain confidentiality as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Employees exposed to a co-worker with confirmed COVID-19 should refer to CDC guidance for how to conduct a risk assessment of their potential exposure.
The following are more recommended strategies, resources and information for employers to use during this time:
Farm Business Best Practices – Colorado State University Extension
Coronavirus Prevention & Control for Farms – Cornell University
Recommended Employer Strategies – Colorado Public Health and Environment
Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19 – Center for Disease Control