When the COVID-19 pandemic forced major cities and states to close down businesses and enforce stay-at-home orders, food supply became a major concern. The meat industry, in particular, is facing a massive challenge: slaughterhouses and meatpacking companies are tasked to stay open to help prevent food shortage and at the same time ensure the safety and health of their workers.
The Reality in Meat Processing Plants
Meat processing plants are vulnerable to COVID-19 transmission for many reasons. One is the large number of workers (many of whom have tasks that require them to move around and interact with other workers) needed to retain original production rates.
Another is the huge amount of traffic that moves to and from meat processing plants, i.e., from the hog farms to the slaughterhouses to the meatpacking department to freezers to distributors and supermarkets and back to processing plants.
The risk of transmission increases when people congregate and move around, but these are difficult to avoid in meat production compounds. So how can meat processing companies ensure their employees’ safety while staying operational during the pandemic?
The Core COVID-19 Preventive Measures
Each company must no doubt implement sweeping rules on hygiene and on-site conduct, and some of them will be radical compared to their original practices. You will find, however, that at the core of these changes are the basic prevention measures the World Health Organization (WHO) is telling ordinary people to do. Below are some of them:
- Regular and thorough disinfection – In China, South Korea, and Taiwan, three Asian countries who’ve so far been hugely successful at containing the virus, sprayed and disinfected their streets every couple of hours each day. A similar practice will keep areas high foot and vehicle traffic from becoming transmission hotspots.
Concerned about your floors getting damaged by the constant dousing of bleach solution? You can make sure your flooring lives out its expected lifespan by protecting it with advanced flooring solutions made for food processing plants. Epoxy or urethane floor coating will protect your concrete floors from chemical reactions and impact damage. They also have anti-slip additives, which is another measure for ensuring your workers’ safety.
- Provide personal protective equipment (PPE) to all employees on-site – All efforts to keep a facility COVID-free becomes moot if the people reporting for duty get sick. More than the facility, it’s the workers who need protection the most. There’s no reason to wait for updated regulations: any company that prioritizes its employees’ welfare will supply their workers with PPEs, such as facemasks, goggles, and waterproof gloves.
It bears mentioning that the OSHA had long advised meat processing factories to use PPEs for the workers’ health and to prevent the spread of diseases. Now is the best time to follow their guidelines to the letter.
- Strictly enforce quarantine rules – Monitor the condition of each employee and be strict with rules regarding quarantine. Anyone who shows signs of illness (e.g., cough, colds, fever) should be sent home immediately and advised to self-quarantine for 14 days. Ideally, the group health insurance and government-backed financial assistance should provide compensation to workers who must take a leave of absence due to COVID-19.
All other policies can revolve around these three core measures. Secure the workplace, protect the workers, and enforce rules that promote containment of the virus — these should make up the cornerstones of the “new normal” in meat processing facilities today.