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).
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.