Protecting Agricultural and Food Processing Employees from COVID-19

On Thursday, May 21, Julio Salas of Approach Management Services updated our clients on the latest COVID-19 regulations for the agricultural and food processing industries. Approach clients can watch the full presentation in our client portal, but read on here for a summary of the highlights.

Of course, many of the precautions that apply to daily life right now also apply to agricultural settings:

  • 6-foot distance OR effective engineering controls (e.g. barriers)
  • Isolation of sick individuals, as soon as illness is suspected
  • Immediate closure and cleaning of areas where sick individual may have been
  • Frequent handwashing and regular cleaning

Every employer also needs to educate and train employees on COVID-19.


COVID-19 Education and Training

Remember that the education and training must be provided in the language that employees understand best. Your COVID-19 worker education must also include:

  • The signs, symptoms, and risk factors associated with coronavirus illness.
  • How to prevent the spread of the coronavirus
  • The importance of hand washing and how to effectively wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Proper respiratory etiquette, including covering coughs and sneezes and not touching eyes, noses, or mouths with unwashed hands or gloves.
  • Emphasis on cleaning and sanitizing frequently-touched items, such as cell phones and tools.

You can reinforce the initial training by posting signage from various government agencies. New information should also be communicated daily because the situation is changing so rapidly.


COVID-19 Requirements for Agricultural Work:

Necessity is the mother of invention, so it’s no surprise we’re seeing some creative ways of social distancing for field work. For instance, Salas reported that some employers are providing two-way radios so that their workers can communicate without having to congregate.

Others have added staging areas on a one-way system so that workers can pick-up and drop-off tools. Many employers are also providing disposable gloves at the pick-up points.

However, some of the new requirements are more challenging. Here are a few examples of requirements that take a good deal more effort than before the pandemic:

  • Portable hand washing stations are required in fields (transient work locations) and must contain at least tepid water, liquid soap, disposable paper towels and a trash can.
  • Secondary hand washing or sanitizing stations (hand sanitizer or wipes/towelettes) should also be provided
  • A worker must be designated to keep these washing stations neat, clean, and stocked
  • All shared vehicles must be sanitized between occupancy by different people

And, these don’t even begin to address requirements for temporary worker housing, which we’ll cover a little bit later.

Remember: If you’re using new cleaning products and sanitizers in response to COVID-19, you need to keep the Safety Data Sheets on file at each location where they are used.


COVID-19 Requirements for Food Processing in Washington State

In a processing facility or food warehouse, Salas pointed out three main considerations:

  1. Reducing the number of people as much as possible, especially visitors
  2. Placing hand-washing stations at all entrances
  3. Considering PPE such as face shields to help reduce transmission


Ideas for Safely Interacting with Visitors

When it comes to visitors, it probably goes without saying to stop all optional tours and non-required visits by the public. Those visits which are required should only last as long as necessary to complete essential business. Save non-essential work or conversations for a virtual meeting or another time. Other visitor requirements to consider are:

  • Ensure visitor logs are accurate and maintained
  • Train visitors on your company’s site-specific coronavirus safety procedures
  • Stagger shipping and receiving orders to reduce potential exposure of transport personnel


COVID-19 cleanliness in food processing facilities

All food processors are required to install hand washing stations at warehouse entrances and at key locations inside for visitors and workers. L&I will not accept hand sanitizer as a substitute for hand washing stations in these locations. However, supplemental stations can be set-up with sanitizer or wipes.

Just like in agriculture, a designated worker needs to be responsible for keeping these hand-washing stations neat, clean, and in full working order. And, workers must be required to wash hands frequently.


COVID-19 PPE in food processing facilities

Employers must offer personal protective equipment (PPE) in order to further reduce COVID-19 transmission risk. For instance, face shields can prevent direct exposure to sneezes or coughs. Public health authorities (CDC, health departments, and the Governor’s office) recommend the use of cloth face coverings when people are in group settings, including work.

If six-foot spacing is not possible, then commercially available facemasks must be provided along with physical barriers and another control such as negative-pressure ventilation. Facemasks alone are not enough when there is less than 6 feet of spacing.


COVID-19 Requirements for Farmworker Housing

On May 13, the Washington Department of Health and Department of Labor and Industries jointly announced WAC 296-307-16102, which sets out additional requirements to protect occupants in temporary worker housing. The requirements took effect on May 18 and plans for compliance were due to the Department of Health on May 28.

Just as you are required to educate employees in the workplace, you must also educate anyone staying in temporary worker housing on the plan on COVID-19 hazards and mitigation. This education must be in a language or languages understood by the occupants.

Some of the other key requirements of the new rule are:

  • Identify and isolate occupants with suspect and confirmed positive cases
  • Provide occupants cloth face coverings
  • Ensure physical distancing of occupants when at housing sites, which includes all cooking, eating, bathing, washing, recreational, and sleeping facilities
  • Ensure frequent cleaning and disinfecting of surfaces, using guidelines set by the CDC

SUGGESTION: Cover fabric and rough surfaces with smooth materials so they are easier to clean



Remember, as with anything safety related, it’s crucial that you document, document, document. Add your COVID-19 plans and procedures to your Accident Prevention Plan, then make sure to record all of the education and training that’s been provided, along with those who attended.

Guidance changes frequently and should be posted to https://www.coronavirus.wa.gov/, but you should also check https://lni.wa.gov/agency/outreach/novel-coronavirus-outbreak-covid-19-resources for workplace-related updates. Or, contact safetyvisit@approachms.com with any questions or concerns for Julio.