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Meat Processing

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Introduction

This tip sheet is for employers and managers in the meat processing industry including abattoirs, processing, and packing. It provides an overview of potential workplace hazards and risks due to COVID-19 and recommends control measures. This document can also be informative to workers and suppliers.

In all cases, guidance from local public health authorities and your jurisdictional Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) regulator must be followed. Also refer to current guidance from:

Refer to these CCOHS documents for general COVID-19 prevention practices:

The following resources are useful for temporary foreign workers:

Consider The Risks

The risk of COVID-19 transmission is increased when:

  • Person-to-person interactions are longer and more frequent, especially when less than 2 metres apart (e.g., crowded workspaces, break rooms, entrances, exits, etc.).
  • In crowded or poorly ventilated places (low air exchange rate, continuous recirculation of indoor air, insufficient filtration, etc.).
  • Humidity is very low or high.
  • Spraying water that may move as mist in the air.
  • Taking part in activities that generate respiratory particles (e.g., when speaking, coughing, heavy physical exertion, etc.).
  • People have inadequate hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette, or access to cleaning facilities and products.
  • Touching shared surfaces and objects frequently.
  • Cleaning and disinfecting of surfaces (the coronavirus may stay longer on non-porous surfaces such as stainless steel or glass), objects, or contaminated biological substances (hair, feathers, faeces, etc.) is infrequent or inadequate.
  • Community COVID-19 hospitalizations or cases are high or increasing.
  • COVID-19 vaccination rates among workers, their families, or the local community are low.
  • Sick workers are allowed to enter or stay in the workplace.

Risk of transmission increases when several of these risk factors occur at the same time. Consider all possible COVID-19 exposure scenarios in your setting and perform a COVID-19 risk assessment. Develop or use an existing risk assessment checklist to document and evaluate all work setting characteristics, activities, and job roles. Conduct separate risk assessments for each facility to account for differences between sites.

Sample questions to ask during a COVID-19 risk assessment:

  • Is outside air used to ventilate enclosed spaces or is indoor air recirculated?
  • Are workers able to maintain physical distancing?
  • Where do workers gather (e.g., kitchen, break areas, etc.)?
  • What activities increase the risk of exposure to the virus?
  • Can activities that cause heavy breathing or require verbal communication be modified?
  • Who is expected to interact in the workplace (e.g., coworkers, delivery staff, inspectors, contractors, visitors, etc.)?
  • How frequent and physically close are interactions between people?
  • Which workers are at higher risk (i.e., older, pregnant or otherwise vulnerableolder, pregnant or otherwise vulnerable)?
  • What are the high-touch surfaces and shared objects? (e.g., washrooms, door handles, tools, equipment, etc.)?
  • Are food and beverages prepared, served, and consumed on site?
  • Are any workers living in congregate housing and using group transportation?

Note: Some animals (particularly mammals like cattle and swine) could be affected by COVID-19. The risk of animals spreading COVID-19 to humans is currently believed to be low but caution is advised. Workers who handle, feed, slaughter, or otherwise interact with livestock should be made aware of this concern and use precautions against the spread of COVID-19 even if working with livestock that appear to be healthy. Consult with your applicable business association for details and updates.

Control Measures

To provide the highest level of protection to workers, use multiple public health measures and workplace controls in a layered approach. No single measure is completely effective alone. Be careful not to create new workplace hazards or negatively impact existing safety controls. Review and adjust measures as necessary in consultation with the workplace health and safety committee or representative.

Create and implement a written workplace COVID-19 safety plan supported by the risk assessment. A written plan may be legally required by the jurisdiction in which you operate. Refer to local authorities for details on what must be included in the plan, if it needs to be posted etc.

Meet your legal occupational health and safety obligations by doing everything reasonably possible in the circumstances to protect the health and safety of your workers. Implement policies and programs to accommodate workers who are at high risk of severe disease or outcomes (i.e., immunocompromised, have chronic medical conditions, unable to be vaccinated, or older) from a COVID-19 infection.

Vaccination

  • Consider creating and implementing a COVID-19 vaccination policy and make sure it follows applicable government vaccination requirements.
  • Discuss any concerns about the COVID-19 vaccination policy with the health and safety committee or representative, and union (if present).
  • Provide accommodation to any worker that has a valid exemption.
  • Consider providing support for workers:
    • To attend local vaccination clinic appointments if these times occur during work hours.
    • Experiencing temporary side effects from vaccination.
  • Continue to follow all workplace COVID-19 control measures and public health measures as required, even if all workers are fully vaccinated.
  • For additional information on vaccination, please refer to:

Communication and Training

Communicate the workplace controls and the public health measures that are in place to all workers in languages they understand. Specific training requirements and recommendations may vary depending on your jurisdiction. Provide regular updates regarding changes and allow workers the opportunity to raise concerns and receive feedback.

COVID-19 specific training for workers should include the following:

  • Recognizing COVID-19 symptoms and knowing how to respond when symptoms are identified.
  • What to do if exposed and how to get tested for COVID-19.
  • How and when to report COVID-19 illness.
  • Information on vaccines and options for vaccination.
  • How to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and protect themselves at work.
  • Ways to stay informed using reputable sources.
  • Policies, plans, and procedures (such as mask policy, physical distance policy, vaccination policy, sick leave policy, cleaning and disinfection schedule, etc.).
  • Make sure workers understand how to protect themselves from the products they use (including cleaning products).
  • For additional information on communication and training, refer to:

Post signs where they can be seen by workers, such as:

Screening and Contact Tracing

  • Before allowing entry to the worksite or the start of work, request proof or attestation of vaccination as required by your local legislation or your COVID-19 safety plan.
  • Implement a screening policy which outlines the type of screening each worksite requires: passive or active. Some jurisdictions may require active screening in response local pandemic conditions.
    • Passive screening requires individuals to self-monitor and self-report possible illness or exposure to COVID-19. Signs at entrances should include what symptoms to monitor for and how to self-report. Passive screening information can also be communicated in advance electronically before people come to the space.
    • Active screening requires individuals to respond to questions about possible signs or symptoms of infection, recent possible COVID-19 exposures, or recent travel outside of Canada. Paper or web-based screening questionnaires, or a designated person asking screening questions may be part of the active screening process.
  • Rapid testing may be performed in addition to the screening questionnaire. This testing may be useful in identifying asymptomatic people.
  • Maintain a list of all individuals entering the workplace, including their names, contact information, and time spent on the site. This information should be provided to the local public health authority if requested for the purpose of contact tracing. All information must be safely stored and destroyed as required by privacy legislation.
  • Individuals that pass the screening can enter the facility. Anyone who does not pass the screening should be denied entry.
  • Workers 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. Workers should contact their health care provider if they develop symptoms or symptoms worsen. They may also need to contact their local public health authority, if required.

COVID-19 Response Plan

  • When any person experiences COVID-19 symptoms while already in the facility:
    • Immediately have them wear a mask (preferably a respirator or medical mask, or if not available, a well-constructed and well fitting non-medical mask). A respirator used in this way (source control) may not need to be fit tested.
    • Ask them to leave as soon as it is safe for them to do so. If needed, have them isolate in a designated area, away from other workers, until they can leave.
  • Call 911 for medical assistance if symptoms are life threatening. Notify their emergency contact.
  • If the case is work-related involving a worker, additional notifications may be required. Contact your jurisdictional OHS regulator and workers’ compensation board for guidance. Complete an incident report and begin an investigation.
  • Refer to guidance from your local public health authority to determine when the worker can return to work.
  • Make sure that your sick leave policy supports workers who are or may be sick. Support may include paid or unpaid sick leave, long-term disability, and government programs.
  • For additional information on what to do if someone is identified as having symptoms or has potentially been exposed to COVID-19, please refer to:

Ventilation

  • Ventilate indoor spaces appropriately.
  • Open building windows and doors, if possible.
  • Maintain ventilation systems and seek advice from a Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) professional on possible improvements (e.g., increasing air exchanges per hour, reducing or eliminating recirculated air, or upgrades to air filtration and disinfection).
  • If possible, run HVAC systems for two hours at maximum outside airflow before and after the building is occupied.
  • Run washroom and kitchen exhaust fans that vent to the outside at low speed to help remove contaminated air.
  • Make sure that air circulation or cooling fans do not direct air flow from person to person.
  • If ventilation cannot be improved, consider using portable air filtration units with high-efficiency particulate (HEPA) filters.
  • Keep humidity between 30% and 50% for indoor settings.
  • Make sure that food safety requirements are not compromised by any ventilation changes.
  • For additional information on indoor ventilation, refer to:

Physical Barriers

Consider installing transparent physical barriers to reduce the spread of respiratory particles. Barriers should be positioned between individuals who might spread respiratory particles toward each other (e.g., from speaking, heavy breathing while working, etc.), especially if the interactions are frequent and less than 2 metres apart. Clean and disinfect barriers at least daily.

Carefully plan the placement of barriers. Make sure that building ventilation is not negatively impacted and does not block aisles or exits (i.e., emergency escape). Avoid surrounding workers completely with barriers as the barriers may reduce the effectiveness of ventilation.

For additional information on physical barriers, refer to:

Physical Distancing

Physical distancing requires people to:

  • Maintain a safe distance from others (at least 2 metres in all directions).
  • Avoid non-essential in-person interactions.
  • Keep interactions as few and as brief as possible.

Physical distancing measures to consider:

  • Follow occupancy limits and physical distancing requirements of local public health or government authorities. Adjust limits according to each space (e.g., washrooms, elevators, etc.) or when requirements change.
  • Maximize the distance between people:
    • Spread workstations apart. Where possible, avoid having more than 1 worker at a time at each workstation.
    • Maintain physical distancing on breaks, including lunchrooms and breakrooms.
    • Limit access to sinks, urinals, etc. which are close to each other.
  • Modify tasks to minimize close physical contact.
  • Avoid in-person gatherings such as social events. Some meetings may be conducted remotely with video conferencing software, if possible.
  • Reduce the frequency and duration of in-person interactions.
  • Consider placing workers into cohorts (teams, crews). Keep members of the same household in the same cohort, if possible. Keep cohorts separate. Make sure that each cohort is supported by trained supervisors and first aid or emergency response personnel.
  • Allow exceptions to distancing guidance in certain circumstances such as rescuing a distressed person, providing first aid, or performing Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR).
  • For additional information on physical distancing, refer to:

Hygiene Measures

  • Encourage good hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette.
  • Provide hand washing stations or hand sanitizer dispensers (always with minimum 60% alcohol content) in high traffic areas such as entrances, exits, breakrooms, vehicle loading areas, washrooms, and throughout the facility.
  • Encourage everyone to sanitize or wash their hands before:
    • Starting work.
    • Eating or drinking.
    • Putting on masks.
    • Leaving the work area.
  • And after:
    • Touching shared items.
    • Using the washroom.
    • Removing masks.
    • Cleaning and disinfecting.
  • Discourage individuals from touching their eyes, nose, mouth, or masks with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid having workers face each other directly.
  • Discourage unnecessary physical contact such as handshakes.
  • Keep soap or sanitizer dispensers stocked.
  • Reduce the number of shared objects. Avoid sharing tools and equipment, if possible.
  • Do not allow workers to share personal protective equipment (PPE), masks, or eating utensils and glassware.
  • Clean and disinfect shared tools and equipment between users.
  • Reduce the number of high-touch points by having:
    • Motion activated doors, faucets, toilets, urinals, and lighting.
    • Hand motion or foot pedal activated soap, paper towel, and sanitizer dispensers and plastic lined waste containers.
    • No touch methods of tracking worker attendance such as key cards or electronic messaging.
  • Have everyone store their personal items (such as jackets) in separate lockers, in labelled and sealed bins/bags, or spaces which do not allow physical contact between each person’s belongings.
  • Modify job tasks to make sure that workers do not need to breathe heavily from exertion.

Cleaning and Disinfection

Develop a cleaning and disinfection schedule and follow a standard operating procedure for touch points. The schedule should identify when cleaning needs to be done and record when it has taken place.

Minimize the number of workers in the area during intensive cleaning and allow time for particles to settle before resuming work. Keep solid particles as contained as possible during collection (sweeping, raking, shovelling, wiping). Dry particles can be dampened to reduce their movement into the air and across surfaces. Minimize the power and duration of water spray jets that can cause aerosolization.

Use an approved hard surface disinfectant, and follow the manufacturer’s instructions and Safety Data Sheet (SDS). Ensure that all disinfectants used are both food safe and effective against COVID-19. Focus on:

  • Areas in which workers spend most of their time.
  • High transmission risk objects such as knives or pens and surfaces such as doors and handrails (should be disinfected multiple times a day).
  • Meat cutting and pulling tools, conveyor belts, machinery controls, carts, bins, and other high-touch tools and equipment.
  • Washrooms, including faucets and flushing mechanisms which require touch to operate.
  • Tables, chairs, eating surfaces (before and after each use).
  • Barriers.

After cleaning and disinfecting, consider:

  • Used cleaning cloths, towels etc. must be properly handled to prevent contamination, and laundered or disposed of after every use.
  • Deposit heavily contaminated or disposable items into plastic lined waste containers.
  • Dispose of garbage at least daily and follow up with hand hygiene.

For additional information on cleaning and disinfection, refer to:

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

  • PPE includes items such as respirators, medical masks, eye protection, gowns, gloves, and safety footwear.
  • Eye protection (such as safety glasses, goggles, or face shield) may be worn in addition to a mask when in close physical contact with others. Note that face shields do not offer equivalent respiratory protection as masks.
  • Continue to use PPE for existing occupational safety hazards and emergencies. COVID-19 PPE policies must not interfere when a higher level of protection is needed for the task.
  • Noisy environments can cause workers to shout to communicate. When it isn’t possible to reduce the noise levels, consider hearing protection which reduces high frequencies but allows the wearer to hear speech.
  • Conduct a hazard assessment and make sure that workers have the correct PPE for the tasks and activities they are performing.
  • Workers may need PPE for COVID-19 protection if they are:
    • Performing tasks that require them to be less than 2 metres from another person.
    • Using cleaning and disinfecting products (refer to the manufacturers’ safe handling instructions).
    • Providing emergency first-aid.
  • Workers must be trained on how to properly use and care for their PPE.
  • For additional information on PPE, refer to:

Mask Wearing

  • Follow the mask wearing requirements of your local jurisdiction. If not required, mask wearing should be encouraged as an additional measure when there is high risk for COVID-19 spread, or when physical distancing is not possible.
  • Masks should be worn indoors.
  • Masks should be well-constructed and well-fitting, covering the nose, mouth, and chin.
  • For some individuals, not being able to see a workers’ face and mouth clearly may cause difficulties (e.g., hard of hearing, using lip-reading, needing to see facial expressions). Consider using transparent masks.
  • Implement or update the workplace heat-stress program, as mask wearing may increase physiological stress during high-exertion tasks.
  • Masks should not be worn by anyone who is unable to remove the mask without assistance (e.g., due to their age, ability, or developmental status).
  • Be aware that non-medical masks have limitations, and improper mask use and disposal can increase the risk of infection.
  • For additional information on masks, refer to:

It is important that mental health resources and support are provided to all workers, including access to an employee assistance program, if available.

For further information on COVID-19, refer to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

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.

Document last updated March 25, 2021