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Meat Processing

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Introduction

This tip sheet is for employers in the meat processing sector (abattoirs, processing, and packing). It provides an overview of recommended controls to help reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace. It can also help workers, consumers/customers, and suppliers to understand the responsibilities of the sector and help protect them from the spread of COVID-19.

In all cases, guidance from local public health authorities must be followed. Also refer to current guidance from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), your jurisdictional OHS regulator, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), and other applicable business associations.

Meet your legal occupational health and safety obligations by doing everything reasonably possible under the circumstances to protect the health and safety of your workers.

For general COVID-19 prevention practices for both employers and workers refer to these CCOHS documents:

Protect Yourself and Others from COVID-19

COVID-19 Health and Safety Planning for Employers

COVID-19 Prevention for Workers

If the workplace employs temporary foreign workers (TFWs) or has workers living in congregate housing, refer to these CCOHS documents:

COVID-19: Guidance for Temporary Foreign Workers

COVID-19 Tip Sheet: Agriculture

Consider The Risks

Each workplace is unique. You need to assess the risks of COVID-19 for your specific workplace, activities (such as process operations and daily worker interactions), and job roles.

You must then implement appropriate hazard controls using the hierarchy of controls (i.e., elimination, substitution, engineering, administrative, personal protective equipment), including multiple personal preventive practices in a layered approach. Consider implementing a workplace safety plan to identify and implement solutions for COVID-19 associated risks. The plan should address as many aspects as possible.

Risk of transmission is increased with close proximity (less than 2 metres) and in-person interactions (close-range conversations, touching), generation of respiratory droplets (when speaking, coughing, sneezing, singing, shouting, and during strenuous activities that increase breath rate), crowded or closed spaces with poor ventilation, inadequate personal hygiene practices or facilities, and contaminated surfaces (fomites). Risk of transmission increases further when several of these risk factors are present in the same setting. Prioritize assessment and control of sector-specific risk factors (listed further below).

Change control:

When implementing new COVID-19 control measures, assess the potential impacts to existing infrastructure, processes, worker safety, client safety, food safety (HACCP, cGMP, ISO), and animal safety. Make sure you do not create new workplace hazards or impact existing infection prevention controls. Update existing policies and procedures as needed to incorporate COVID-19 risks and control measures. Continue to evaluate how effective the controls are and make changes if needed.

Here are example questions to help assess the COVID-19 risk factors in your workplace:

  • What are the main work zones, processes, and job roles?
  • Where and when do workers interact with others at the workplace (coworkers, producers, deliveries, inspectors, contractors, visitors, members of the public)?
  • How close are the physical interactions? Do they need to be close for certain job tasks? The risk of transmission increases with close and frequent contact.
  • How long are the interactions? Evidence indicates that person-to-person spread is more likely with prolonged contact.
  • Do workers stay at a fixed location for their entire shift or do they travel within the facility? Do workers travel and work outside of the main facility?
  • Is there interaction with workers on other shifts and production lines?
  • Where are workers taking their breaks and eating meals?
  • Are any workers living in congregate housing and using group transportation?
  • Can barriers be installed where it is not possible to maintain physical distancing?
  • If required, can ventilation and cooling system settings be modified without compromising food safety requirements?
  • Do workers have easy access to personal hygiene facilities?
  • How are machinery, equipment, and tools used in the workplace? Are they shared between workers?
  • How often, by which method and when are surfaces and objects cleaned and disinfected?
  • Have the selected disinfectants been assessed for both food safety and effectiveness against the COVID-19 virus? Do they have a drug identification number (DIN) from Health Canada?
  • Do workers have the knowledge they need to protect themselves and others from the spread of COVID-19?
  • Could language barriers impact the ability of workers to understand and implement the transmission control measures?
  • Are you able to assess if a worker may be sick or has been exposed, and rapidly take appropriate actions?
  • Are corporate sick leave policies adequate to support isolation and quarantine?

The following risk factors may be present in meat processing operations:

  • Indoor conditions ideal for virus spread: Coronaviruses maintain infectivity and mobility on metallic surfaces, in cold temperatures (0-12°C), and very high or very low relative humidity.
  • Poor ventilation: industrial climate-control systems with low air exchange rate, continuous re-circulation and cooling of stale indoor air, and insufficient filtration.
  • Virus reservoirs: manufacturing processes create dense biological deposits that the virus can adhere to (dust, soil, feathers, hair, blood, faeces).
  • Intensive water use: carries virus particles far from the source to other surfaces and into the air.
  • Poor personal hygiene: limited or non-existent personal hygiene measures available (hand-wash stations, showers), or insufficient use of the facilities provided.
  • Poor cleaning standards: inadequate cleaning and disinfection of surfaces (infrequent, poor technique).
  • No screening for symptoms or high-risk contacts: contact tracing and testing during the outbreaks found a high incidence of asymptomatic carriers.
  • Overcrowding: in production workspaces and non-production areas (break rooms, washrooms, punch-clock, entrances, exits).
  • Close proximity (less than 2 metres): workers spaced too closely to each other on production lines, both side-by-side and facing across.
  • Exposure time: long shift duration
  • Lack of designated work cohorts: workers allowed to mingle with people from separate production lines and shifts.
  • Face masks: workers could have difficulty with properly using their face masks during high exertion (only mouth covered, frequent touching and readjustment of mask, sweating).
  • Noisy production areas: speaking loudly or shouting is required to communicate; physical exertion also results in greater breathing rate and force (more respiratory droplets are released and spread further).
  • Pace of work: some facilities increased production-line speed (increased exertion and reduced physical distancing).
  • Living situations: workers living in shared private accommodations or on-site congregate housing.
  • Transportation: workers using public or group transportation services (bus, carpool, ride share).
  • Worker socio-economic factors.
  • Sick leave policy: due to insufficient sick leave policies and fear of repercussions, people continued to work even when ill.

NOTE: There is limited information regarding COVID-19 transmission within various livestock species (cattle, swine, poultry), and to/from animals and people continue to be evaluated; therefore, caution is recommended. Workers who handle, feed, slaughter, or otherwise interact with livestock should be made aware of the concerns and use precautions against the spread of COVID-19 even if working with livestock who appear to be healthy. Consult with your applicable business association for details and updates.

Control Measures

These types of controls eliminate exposures (at the workplace):

  • Workers whose jobs can be performed remotely should work from home, e.g., office and support staff not directly involved in on-site manufacturing operations.
  • Use remote communication technologies, such as teleconferencing, when possible.

Engineering Controls

These types of controls use physical infrastructure to reduce workplace exposure. They rely on good design and maintenance to be fully effective.

Physical Barriers

  • Install appropriately sized and positioned barriers between workstations where physical distancing of at least 2 metres cannot be maintained.
  • Barriers should block respiratory droplets, extend above head height, and allow free and safe movement of the worker within their enclosed zone. Refer to local public health guidance for detailed instructions on barrier design and installation.
  • Use plexiglass, strip curtains, or other impermeable materials that are durable and easy to clean and disinfect.
  • On linear production lines, barriers can be placed to separate workers standing side-by side, and across from each other, while still allowing the pass-through of materials at the work surface level.

Ventilation

Poor ventilation can result in virus accumulation in the air. Continually ventilating indoor spaces will dilute and replace the potentially contaminated air.

For additional detailed information on ventilation, please refer to the Government of Canada website COVID-19: Guidance on indoor ventilation during the pandemic and the CCOHS document COVID-19 Tip Sheet: Ventilation.

  • Make sure that any indoor work is conducted in a space that is well ventilated.
  • Make sure that food-safety environmental requirements are not compromised.
  • It is recommended to consult with a licenced heating ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) expert before making any physical or setting alterations:
    • Ensure that building HVAC systems are properly rated and configured for the types of settings, types of activities, maximum occupancy, and length of time the spaces are occupied.
    • Ensure that all HVAC systems are well-maintained and functioning at peak efficiency.
    • Increase HVAC fresh air intake percentage and air exchange rate.
    • Minimize or eliminate continuous re-circulation of indoor air.
    • Open windows and doors where possible (consider potential impacts to air temperature and pressure balance).
    • Consider adding or upgrading air filters. Ensure that HVAC filters are the highest Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) rating that the system can safely accommodate, are well sealed without bypass, and are kept clean or replaced as required.
    • Consider portable air filtration units with High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters.
    • Maintaining an indoor relative humidity of 30% to 50% is most effective at reducing virus viability and transmissibility.
  • Air circulating fans can spread virus particles throughout indoor spaces. Make sure that air circulation or cooling fans are not directing air flow from person to person.
  • When performing HVAC and air filter maintenance, consider that the surfaces may be contaminated with viral particles. Require maintenance personnel wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE).
  • Use additional means to keep workspaces cool, such as shutting off heat generating machinery when not in use, or allowing fewer animals and/or workers into closed spaces at one time.
  • When transporting workers together in a vehicle, increase the amount of fresh outside air entering the vehicle, such as by opening the windows (weather permitting) and setting the ventilation to outside air intake. Avoid using the recirculated air setting.

Other Engineering Controls

  • Install enough handwashing stations and hand sanitizer dispensers to ensure easy access for all persons who enter the workplace.
  • If plumbing is not available, provide a spouted water container and catch basin, with water, soap, and paper towels. Also provide personal-use sanitizer dispensers.
  • Reduce the number of touchpoints:
    • Replace round doorknobs with handles and push-plates that can be operated using wrists.
    • Install automatic doors or prop non-fire doors open. Be careful not to create new hazards (tripping or fire).
    • Install automatic touch-free water taps, sanitizer dispensers, toilet flush levers, paper towel dispensers, and waste bins.
    • Install movement sensors to activate lighting and minimize use of wall switches.
  • Install additional punch-clock stations, well-spaced apart, to reduce crowding at shift change. Use touch-free methods to clock in, such as electronic keycards or verbal roll-call.
  • Replace soft surfaces (carpet) with hard surfaces (tile, wood, metal, plastic) that are easier to clean and disinfect.
  • Increase physical distancing between workers by rearranging, removing, or blocking-off workstations, cubicles, and furniture.
  • Reassign room usage to provide more space. Use larger well-ventilated rooms or outdoor spaces (weather permitting) for meetings and breaks.
  • Restrict people from entering zones they do not perform work in or need access to (does not apply in emergency situations).
  • Establish one-way walking routes in corridors and stairways to minimize cross traffic.
  • Use signs and floor markings (at least 2 metres apart) to indicate where workers should stand.
  • Reduce noise levels as much as possible to reduce the need to shout. Consider providing earplugs that block loud frequencies but allow the vocal range to be heard.

Administrative Controls

These types of controls reduce risk through policies, procedures, and training.

They rely on personnel management and compliance to be fully effective.

COVID-19 Safety Plan

Having a COVID-19 Safety Plan supports existing business continuity processes such as risk assessment, hazard control and mitigation, change management, and emergency response.

A written plan may be legally required by the jurisdiction in which you operate. It may need to be posted, and available upon request from an inspector. Refer to your jurisdiction for instructions on what must be included in the plan.

It is recommended that the plan:

  • Be specific to the workplace infrastructure, process operations, and job roles.
  • Lists all of the controls implemented to protect workers and others.
  • Outlines how to respond to a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19, e.g., immediate actions to take such as internal and external notifications, production line shut-downs, and extra cleaning.
  • Considers what to do if large numbers of workers need to be isolated, quarantined, or will require medical care, e.g., personnel logistics and coverage for absent workers.
  • Be implemented and maintained by a designated administrator or committee.
  • Be reviewed and updated frequently to comply with evolving pandemic requirements.
  • Be communicated to management and workers as part of their training.

Screening Process

  • Passive screening relies on workers to self-monitor and notify their supervisor if they feel sick or have possibly been exposed to COVID-19.
  • Active screening requires the employer to ask questions about symptoms and potential exposure scenarios.
  • Ask screening questions to workers before each work shift, using a checklist from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) or your local public health authority.
  • A screening checklist should also be used for any visitors, contractors, inspectors, or other persons who may enter the workplace.
  • Record the names and contact information of all persons at the workplace. Record employee work times and locations. 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. If requested, provide the information to the local public health authority to assist their contact tracing efforts.
  • Screen for potential exposure to COVID-19 in the past 14 days:
    • Recent travel (international or domestic)
    • Contact with a person who tested positive for COVID-19
    • Community outbreaks, such as at a local store, school, or event
  • Screen for the most common symptoms of COVID-19.
  • If readily available and feasible, consider implementing routine rapid testing of all workers as an additional active screening measure. Individuals can be pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic but still be carrying the virus and may transmit it to others, which would not be caught through verbal or visual screening. When used regularly, rapid antigen detection tests may help identify individuals who may be infectious early on.
  • Consider promoting use of the national COVID Alert App.

What to do if symptomatic or exposed

  • If a worker or other person is identified as having symptoms, or has potentially been exposed to COVID-19:
    • Call 911 for assistance if the worker is severely ill (such as difficulty breathing or chest pain).
    • Have them wear a medical (surgical) mask. If unavailable, they should properly wear a well-constructed, well-fitting non-medical mask.
    • Do not allow them to continue with their job tasks.
    • Clean and disinfect any surfaces or items that the worker has contacted.
    • Make every effort to keep them isolated before sending them home.
    • Discourage them from using public transit, taxi, or rideshare.
    • Suggest that they stay home (or return home) and contact their health care provider or local public health authority if they develop symptoms or if symptoms worsen.
  • Develop procedures for contacting local public health authorities for further advice in the event of a positive COVID-19 case.
  • If the case is work-related involving a worker, additional notifications may be required. Contact your jurisdictional OHS regulator and worker compensation board for guidance. Complete an incident report and begin an investigation.

Physical Distancing

  • Implement and enforce an indoor workplace physical distancing policy.
  • Keep in-person interactions few, brief, and from the greatest distance possible (at least 2 metres).
  • Workers should minimize non-essential in-person interactions with people from outside of their immediate household or work cohort.
  • Encourage single-file movement in hallways, stairways, and traffic corridors.
  • Discourage unnecessary physical contact such as hugs, handshakes, and high fives. After-work gatherings should also be discouraged.
  • Discourage congregating and crowding during breaks and shift-changes, including in outdoor break areas and weather shelters.
  • Do not exceed the occupancy limits for buildings and rooms set by your jurisdiction.
  • Job tasks that require employees to be in close contact should be modified.
    • Consider changes that could be made to the process flow, tools, machinery, ergonomics, or production-line rate to allow more space between workers. Enforce distancing of workers both side-by-side and facing-across production lines, if engineering controls cannot be implemented here.
  • Implement a cohort system (dedicated teams, crews of workers):
    • The use of cohorts reduces the risk of transmission of COVID-19 and helps with contact tracing if a positive COVID-19 case is found in the workplace.
    • Schedule the cohort to work, attend meetings and training, and take breaks together.
    • Do not allow cohorts to mingle.
    • Encourage workers to only work at one job location.
    • If several workers live in the same immediate household (e.g., relatives, friends, or roommates), consider assigning them to the same work cohort or shift.
  • Discourage use of carpooling, public transit, and rideshare services.
  • Plan for how workers will maintain physical distancing while evacuating or sheltering-in-place in the event of an emergency.
  • There may be exceptions to distancing guidance, e.g., when providing emergency first aid or rescue.

Good Hygiene Practices

  • Encourage frequent hand hygiene:
    • When: before-and-after the work shift, touching shared items, using equipment and tools, touching their face mask, donning and doffing personal protective equipment (PPE), handling food, using the washroom, etc.
    • How: washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or if not available use hand sanitizer (more than 60% alcohol-based). If hands are visibly dirty, they must be washed with soap and water.
  • Do not allow workers to share personal protective equipment (PPE), uniforms, non-medical masks, or eating utensils and glassware.
  • Discourage sharing of personal items such as cellphones or lighters.
  • Consider providing each employee with their own set of tools.
  • Provide laundry service for uniforms or require employees wear freshly cleaned uniforms or clothes for each shift. Clothes should be bagged and washed after each shift.
  • Remove communal coat storage areas. If they do not have lockers, provide sealed bins or bags for workers to store their personal items, footwear, and clothing.

Cleaning and Disinfection

  • Ensure that all disinfectants used are both food-safe and effective against COVID-19. Refer to this Health Canada guidance for hard-surface disinfectants and hand sanitizers.
  • Follow the product manufacturers instructions for safe handling and effective use. Wear personal protective equipment (PPE) if required.
  • High transmission risk objects and surfaces should be disinfected multiple times a day.
  • Meat processing operations should focus on cleaning meat cutting and pulling tools, conveyor belts, machinery controls, carts, bins, plexiglass barriers, plastic curtains, door handles, waste and recycling bins, countertops, touch screens, and frequently used office equipment (pens, tools, phones, radios, keyboard, mouse, etc.).
  • Areas with dense concentrations of dry and wet particles (dust, soil, feathers, hair, blood, faeces) should be kept as clean as possible throughout the entire shift to minimize transportation of the virus across surfaces and into the air.
  • 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.
  • Minimize the number of workers in the area during intensive cleaning, and allow time for dry and wet particles to settle before resuming operations.
  • Ensure washrooms are cleaned frequently, have running water, and are stocked with soap, paper towels, and a plastic lined no-touch waste container.
  • Clean and disinfect breakroom countertops, chairs, and eating surfaces after each use.
  • Remind workers to also clean and disinfect personal devices such as cellphones.

Communication & Training

  • Communicate all new and updated practices and policies to workers.
  • Use accessible formats and language(s).
  • Train all workers about COVID-19, including:
    • What COVID-19 is and the common symptoms
    • What to do if they feel sick or may have been exposed
    • How the virus spreads
    • How layering multiple control measures helps to prevent the spread
    • How to protect themselves and others with personal preventive practices
    • How to properly wear, handle, and care for their masks
    • How to safely use cleaning and disinfection chemicals (WHMIS)
    • How to stay informed about COVID-19 using reputable sources
    • The benefits of vaccination
  • Monitor compliance and repeat the training as often as needed.
  • Ensure that managers and supervisors understand the risks, control measures, and policies. They must stay up to date on current legal requirements as the pandemic situation evolves.

Human Resources Policies

  • Implement a mask wearing policy:
    • Follow the non-medical mask requirements of your local public health agency and jurisdiction.
    • Refer to PHAC: Non-medical masks for further information and guidance.
    • Require that masks be worn at all times except when eating, drinking, or showering.
    • Make sure that wearing a mask does not create new hazards such as from entanglement (moving machinery) or flammability (open flame or sparks).
    • Update your existing heat-stress program to consider that mask-wearing may increase physiological stress during high-exertion tasks.
    • Non-medical masks are useful in reducing the spread of COVID-19 but are not considered to be personal protective equipment (PPE), as they do not meet regulated testing and certification standards. Continue to use PPE for existing occupational safety hazards and emergencies, as directed by applicable laws.
    • Non-medical masks must be well-constructed, well-fitting, and worn properly.
    • There is great variation in the quality of masks available from retail sources. Consider providing single-use medical (surgical) masks or reuseable fabric non-medical masks to workers.
  • Modify shift schedules to support both production and control measures:
    • Split single long shifts (10-12 hours) into several shorter ones with different or less workers to reduce potential daily exposure time.
    • Stagger workers’ arrival and departure times to avoid crowding and mingling.
    • Stagger breaks, mealtimes, equipment distribution, meetings, training, safety talks, and orientations where possible.
    • Consider dedicating a partial or full shift per day or week to deep cleaning and disinfection.
    • Schedule time throughout the shift for workers to properly complete personal hygiene and cleaning-disinfection tasks without rushing or cutting corners.
    • Adjust daily staff levels to have the fewest people in the workplace, while making sure tasks can be completed safely.
    • If there are fewer employees available, make sure essential roles such as trained supervisors, and first aid or emergency response team members are present on each shift. Make sure employees are trained to work safely including when replacing the duties of others.
  • Adopt flexible sick leave policies that enable ill workers to stay home:
    • Communicate firmly that sick workers should not come to work.
    • Designate a process for sick workers to immediately notify their supervisor.
    • Provide support to employees who are off sick.
    • Do not penalize employees who must take leave to isolate or quarantine.
    • Give advances on future sick leave or allow employees to donate sick time to each other.
  • Workers at higher risk of severe health outcomes from contracting COVID-19 due to existing medical conditions may require accommodation.
  • Provide mental health support and resources.

Receiving External Services

  • Cooperate with inspectors from jurisdictional health and safety, food inspection, and local public health authorities to safely accommodate their inspection activities.
  • Limit or reschedule visits to your workplace by contractors, vendors, or other visitors.
  • Before they visit, communicate with external service providers about your COVID-19 controls, and also work with those services to assist with their COVID-19 precautions.
  • In all cases where a service provider must visit, give them access to hand washing facilities, maintain physical distancing as much as possible, and have them properly wear a medical (surgical) mask or a well-constructed, well-fitting non-medical mask.
  • Clean and disinfect the work area before and after the external service provider does their work.
  • Methods of goods delivery may vary by supplier. Consider scheduling large deliveries during hours when there are less workers present, or arrange for curb-side pickup.
  • Discuss infection control and isolation/quarantine measures with transportation services when receiving or shipping large numbers of livestock animals.

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