The risk of contracting COVID-19 increases in situations where people are working in closed spaces (with poor ventilation), crowded places and around people from other households. Risk is higher in settings where these factors also include activities such as close-range conversations, singing, shouting or heavy breathing.
Working in the food processing industry exposes workers to many of the above situations. COVID-19 transmission during these activities depends on the setting, the number of people, physical proximity, duration and type of interactions, and the effectiveness of health and safety measures put in place.
Employers should consider the following:
How to protect employees and visitors? Conduct risk assessments of all job tasks and interactions with others. Limit the number of visitors allowed into the facility.
How is the production space ventilated? Ventilation could increase the transmission of airborne viruses. Adjust ventilation systems to minimize risk.
How many close interactions will employees have with each other? Transmission risks increase with close and frequent contact.
How long are the interactions? Evidence indicates that person-to-person spread is more likely with longer contact. Train employees to keep interactions as short as possible.
What kind of interactions will employees have (e.g., working side by side or frequently lifting heavy loads together)? Train staff to keep the greatest distance possible (at least 2 metres) from others. Implement precautions such as barriers or job modifications to minimize COVID-19 transmission.
Do employees frequently have contact with high touch surfaces or objects? Remove objects from service or modify processes to be contactless and increase the frequency of cleaning and disinfection.
Are non-medical masks required for workplaces in your jurisdiction? Determine when and where masks must be worn (e.g., required unless drinking or eating). Check local public health authorities’ requirements and enforce them in your facility.
Are you anticipating or observing crowds in your facility (e.g., at punch clocks or change rooms)? Make operational changes to avoid crowds as much as possible.
Each food processing and manufacturing operation may have unique layout. It is important for employers to assess the risks of COVID-19 transmission for their specific space and implement appropriate hazard controls using the hierarchy of controls (i.e., elimination, substitution, engineering controls, administrative controls, personal protective equipment (PPE)). Use a layered approach when implementing the chosen combination of risk controls. Do not create new workplace hazards or negatively impact existing safety controls.
Implement a COVID-19 safety plan to identify hazards and provide solutions specific to your workplace. Communicate the plan to employees and post copies to safety boards. The plan should address as many aspects as possible. Review, communicate, and update the plan on a regular basis.
Elimination and Engineering Controls
Implement these controls to help prevent the transmission of COVID-19 in the workplace. The priority should be having as few people as possible in the workplace while maintaining safety protocols.
Install additional hand washing stations or hand sanitizer dispensers (always with minimum 60% alcohol content) in high traffic areas such as employee and main entrances, exits, breakrooms, change rooms, meeting rooms, elevators, front desk, and shipping and receiving areas.
Ventilate indoor spaces appropriately. Consult an HVAC specialist on ways to increase indoor/outdoor air exchanges per hour, reduce or eliminate air recirculation for your entire facility. Consider installing air filtration and disinfection units (e.g., room or system UV germicidal lighting) to further reduce air contaminants.
Make sure exhaust fans (exhausting to the outside) in washrooms are fully functional, operating at maximum capacity, and remain on.
Ensure that air circulation or cooling fans are not directing air flow from person to person.
Modify change rooms and meeting rooms to promote the greatest possible distance between workers (i.e., removing furniture or adjusting locker placement).
Install physical barriers to separate employees from each other where possible and appropriate, make sure not to block aisles or exits (i.e., emergency escape). Barriers should be appropriately sized and positioned to block respiratory droplets from being carried from person to person. Clean and disinfect barriers at least daily.
Consider these facility renovations and upgrades:
Motion activated automatic doors for change rooms and entrances.
Hand motion activated automatic faucets.
Automatic flushing toilets and urinals.
Hand or foot activated soap, towel, and sanitizer dispensers.
Replace soft surfaces with hard surfaces which are more easily disinfected (i.e., change carpet to tile, cushioned benches to wooden or plastic benches).
Motion activate sensors or timers for area lighting (avoiding the need to touch light switches).
These types of controls reduce risk through policies, procedures, and training. They rely on personnel management and compliance to be fully effective. Applied properly they can minimize coronavirus transmission. It is possible for COVID-19 to be spread by people who do not have any symptoms. When setting up controls, consider that everyone is potentially infected. Implementing and enforcing policies to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in food manufacturing and processing businesses is critical to protecting employees and the public. Make sure to continue to review and update administrative controls as the pandemic evolves.
Physical distancing and staff related changes
Create and enforce a physical distance policy. Communicate these requirements to all employees and visitors.
Remind employees to minimize non-essential in-person interactions with people from other households (to decrease potential COVID-19 exposures). Interactions should be kept infrequent, brief and at the greatest distance possible (at least 2 metres).
Stagger shift starts and break times to minimize crowding at employee entrances, change and break rooms.
Minimize contact for employees reporting to work by simplifying the process as much as possible (e.g., being flexible with clock in/out times or adding additional clock-in stations).
Limit the number of people allowed in washrooms and change rooms at a time. Configure the space to have alternating sinks, stalls, and urinals out of service if they are within 2 metres of each other.
Designate one-way and single file routes through the facility, wherever possible.
Adjust daily staff levels to have the fewest people in the workplace (where safe to do so).
Modify workstations to ensure the greatest possible distance between employees (at least 2 metres). Focus on workstations that position workers shoulder to shoulder or facing each other. If spacing workers out is not possible, install barriers between workers designed to reduce the transmission of respiratory droplets.
Make sure essential roles such as supervisors, and first aid or emergency response team members are on each shift.
Cross-train employees so they are safely able to replace the duties of others.
Consider having groups of employees (cohorts) that work the same shifts. Keep groups separate as much as possible.
Avoid sending employees to multiple worksites, divisions, or departments, if possible.
Continue with safety and informational meetings but avoid gatherings of people where possible. Implement technology to conduct meetings virtually. If that option is not possible, gather in small physically distanced groups, preferably outdoors or in large well-ventilated locations.
Reduce the number of shared objects between employees (e.g., assign cleaning tools or radios to employees for their whole shift).
Evaluate job tasks, minimize close physical contact for as many tasks as possible. Modify tasks so they can be performed by one person (if safe to do so). For all tasks that require two or more employees in close proximity, make sure all employees are properly wearing a non-medical mask and keep the interaction as short as possible.
Plan for how employees will maintain physical distance during emergency evacuations. Conduct drills to make sure employees are following the new procedure.
Prepare for exceptions to distancing guidance such as for anyone rescuing a distressed person, providing first aid, or performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
Modify shared storage areas (e.g., winter footwear, sweaters, coats, PPE). Have employees store their personal items in separate lockers or in labeled, sealed bins/bags.
Provide laundry service for work uniforms or require employees wear freshly cleaned uniforms or clothes for each shift. Clothes should be bagged and washed after each shift.
Implement flexible leave policies to accommodate employees who are at risk of more severe disease or outcomes (i.e., over 60 years old, immunocompromised, have chronic medical conditions).
Adopt flexible sick leave policies and consider providing support to employees who are off sick, encouraging them to stay home when they feel ill, even if symptoms are mild (i.e., do not penalise employees that do not come to work when they feel sick).
Recommend that workers avoid communal living or travel arrangements, if possible.
Do everything reasonably possible under the circumstances to protect the health and safety of your employees by providing information, training, cleaning, disinfecting, and personal protective equipment.
Proper mask wearing reduces the number of viruses released into the surrounding environment by infected individuals. Having physical distancing and mask wearing policies in place and enforced is an effective way to minimize the spread of COVID-19.
Implement a mask wearing policy. Communicate these requirements to visitors and employees. Make sure the policy complies with local public health authority recommendations.
The policy should include when, where, and which type of mask is required to be worn.
Require employees to properly wear well-constructed and well-fitting non-medical masks, while at work. Masks should cover the nose, mouth, and chin without gaps.
If respirators (e.g., disposable or reusable N95 mask) are already being used for certain tasks continue their use, they provide superior protection to non-medical masks.
Masks should not be worn by anyone who is unable to remove the mask without assistance.
Inform employees of the limitations with masks. Include the fact that improper mask use and disposal can increase the risk of infection.
Consider using transparent masks, if appropriate, or use written directions to communicate with co-workers who are deaf or hard of hearing.
Train staff and post signs reminding all people to:
Change their mask if it becomes wet or soiled (have masks on hand for this purpose)
Store soiled reusable masks in a moisture wicking container (launder masks before re-use)
Avoid touching the outside of the mask while wearing and removing it (handle by straps only)
Wash (or sanitize) their hands with soap and water before and after putting it on or taking it off
Be aware of environmental conditions when wearing masks (e.g., masks getting soiled from food ingredients or faster onset of heat stress in hot environments)
Provide COVID-19 specific training to your employees, include the following:
Changes to policies/procedures due to safety plan findings
Monitor compliance and repeat the training as often as needed.
Instruct workers to stay home if they feel sick, even if symptoms are mild.
Train conflict resolution techniques to supervisors that may have to deal with employees who react aggressively to COVID-19 health measures and organizational changes.
Teach employees to avoid unnecessary physical contact such as hugs, handshakes, and high fives, as well as after-work gatherings.
Discourage the sharing of personal items such as cellphones, lighters, etc.
Instruct employees to avoid sharing portable equipment and tools while at work. Train employees on the proper techniques for cleaning and disinfecting equipment such as controls, screens, keyboards, tools, radios, personal devices (e.g., cellphones). Give them supplies and time to disinfect their workstation as necessary.
Train employees to wash or sanitize hands before and after when touching shared items is unavoidable (e.g., batch records, clipboards, tools, pens, carts).
Make sure workers understand how to protect themselves from the chemicals they use (including cleaners) i.e., wear appropriate PPE, ventilate area during cleaning, etc. Make sure that all workers are trained, understand and use the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS).
Employee and visitor screening and contact tracing
Administer health screening questions to all employees and visitors at entrances. Include current symptoms (if any), recent travel and potential COVID-19 exposures (templates are available from your local public health authority or OHS organizations). Consider having employees complete the screening using a company portal or app before coming into work.
Employees that pass the screening can work. Employees who do not pass the screening should contact their supervisor. The supervisor should instruct them to stay (or return) home and monitor themselves for symptoms. Suggest that they contact their health care provider or local public health authority if they develop symptoms or symptoms worsen.
Visitors that pass the screening should be allowed to enter. Those that do not should be denied entry. Inform visitors about the screening process before they arrive, allowing them to prepare or avoid coming if they would fail the screening.
Log all employees and visitors who enter the workplace. This record is critical for contact tracing. This information should only be provided to local public health authorities. Make sure that privacy is protected, and that the information is stored and destroyed in a safe and secure manner, as required by privacy laws.
Promote the use of the national COVID alert app by visitors and employees, if your province is participating.
Managers should keep up to date and comply with orders from their local public health authorities or regulators.
Communicate to employees and visitors all new practices and policies that will affect the workplace. Communicate these changes and post credible COVID-19 resources at entrances, washrooms, staff rooms, safety boards, on websites.
Keep posted information, guidance, and government orders up to date.
Post signs throughout facility reminding employees about safe behaviours such as hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette, and to follow physical distancing and mask wearing policies.
Indicate room occupancy limits at the entrances of break rooms, washrooms, reception areas, offices, meeting rooms.
Communications should be written using easy to understand terms, in multiple languages according to employee preferences.
Use graphics and pictograms to clearly inform visitors about desired and undesired conduct.
COVID-19 Response plan
When a person reports having COVID-19 symptoms while at work, immediately have them wear a medical (surgical) mask. If not available, they should properly wear a well-constructed and well-fitting non-medical mask.
If the person is in immediate distress, call 911 for medical assistance.
Ask visitors to leave if it is safe for them to do so.
Have the person stop work, immediately. Isolate the person from others in a designated area or room. (Note: After the person leaves, clean and disinfect all surfaces/objects that the symptomatic person may have touched or been close to).
Send the employee home to begin their self-isolation. Ask them to avoid public transit, taxi, and ridesharing, if possible.
Instruct them to seek medical care, if necessary and to follow instructions from their local public health authority (check local public health websites).
Return to work should be determined by medical professionals or public health officials and will depend on the type, duration, and severity of symptoms and if taken, the result of a COVID-19 test.
If an employee or visitor informs you of a positive COVID-19 test result, report it to your local public health authority and cooperate with any contact tracing efforts. You may also be required to inform employees who might have been exposed unless that is the responsibility of your public health authority. Advise all those that were potentially exposed to carefully monitor themselves for COVID-19 symptoms.
If the case is work-related involving a worker, additional notifications may be required, contact your jurisdictionalOHS regulator and workers’ compensation board for guidance. Complete an incident report and begin an investigation.
Encourage employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine once eligible and available in your region.
Consider supporting employees who are interested in receiving the vaccine by providing paid time during work hours to get the vaccine or arranging a for a vaccine clinic at the workplace.
Food Manufacturer and Processors Specific Guidance
Reduce noise levels as much as possible so people can speak as quietly as possible (e.g. turn off equipment that is not actively in use or have fewer workers in work areas).
Minimize unnecessary visitors (e.g., contractors, engineers, consultants) to the facility. Conduct meetings virtually and reschedule non-critical maintenance, service calls, and consultations, if possible.
Consider shutting down the facility when an outbreak is declared. Intensively clean and disinfect production, employee change and break rooms, and administration areas during the shutdown. An appropriate length shutdown will break the chain of transmission between workers and will lower the impact of a prolonged outbreak, consult with local public health authorities for advice.
Implement precautions to avoid contaminating food with the increased use of cleaners and disinfectants.
Allow areas external workers were working in (e.g., repairs, consultations, barrier installers) to adequately ventilate before implementing cleaning protocol. Only resume operation when safe to do so.
Schedule deliveries to arrive during off-peak times when the minimum number of employees are on site.
Spray food grade disinfectants on the outside of containers when they arrive on your facility. If possible, quarantine them for additional time before use.
Cleaning and Disinfection
For general cleaning and disinfection guidance click here.
Food manufacturers and processors should focus on food processing equipment, work surfaces, equipment controls, touch screens, tools, ingredient storage containers, waste and recycling bins, office equipment (pens, tools, phones, radios, keyboard, mouse, etc.).
High touch and transmission risk objects and surfaces should be disinfected multiple times a day.
Ensure washrooms are cleaned frequently, have running water, and are stocked with soap, paper towels and a plastic lined waste containers (preferably no-touch).
Clean and disinfect tables, chairs, eating surfaces in break rooms or cafeterias after each employee use.
Make sure that cafeteria dishwashing equipment is operating within specifications, chose sanitizing cycles or setpoints, and use appropriate detergents and sanitizers.
Avoid cross-contamination between clean and dirty dishware/glassware.
It is important that mental health resources and support are provided to all workers, including access to an employee assistance program, if available.
Note that this guidance is just some of the adjustments organizations can make during a pandemic. Adapt this list by adding your own good practices and policies to meet your organization’s specific needs.
Disclaimer: As public and occupational health and safety information is changing rapidly, local public health authorities should be consulted for specific, regional guidance. This information is not intended to replace medical advice or legislated health and safety obligations. Although every effort is made to ensure the accuracy, currency and completeness of the information, CCOHS does not guarantee, warrant, represent or undertake that the information provided is correct, accurate or current. CCOHS is not liable for any loss, claim, or demand arising directly or indirectly from any use or reliance upon the information.