As ginning season approaches and the COVID-19 pandemic continues, take a close look at your operation to mitigate the risk to your workers and business as much as possible. Be sure to develop a COVID-19 policy and have a good training program in place before you begin hiring for the season.
One of the most frustrating parts about trying to keep our workers safe from COVID-19 is the ever-changing guidance documents being issued by local, state and federal authorities. Here are some components of a good plan, but be sure to check with your local ginners’ association and your local, state and federal guidance as this issue continues.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention should be your primary information source related to COVID-19 and the workplace. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has issued guidance as well, but most of it references CDC guidelines. State and local guidance typically is based on CDC guidelines but may differ slightly.
Guidance For Agricultural Workers
When you start looking at the details of any individual operation, the implementation of these guidelines can get complicated. But there are some fairly universal basics. Here are recommendations from the CDC for agricultural workers you should include in your program:
✓ Screen workers for coronavirus symptoms. This typically includes asking them in appropriate languages if they have had a fever or other symptoms in the past 24 hours and taking temperatures at the beginning of each shift. Be sure employees providing the screening are properly trained and have access to personal protective equipment, barriers or other controls.
✓ Do not let employees enter the workplace if they have a fever of 100.4 degrees or greater (or have reported feeling feverish) or if screening results indicate the worker is suspected of having COVID-19-like symptoms.
✓ Encourage workers to report symptoms immediately when onsite, and encourage the ones who have symptoms to self-isolate and contact a healthcare provider.
✓ Determine how to maintain distance between employees. Use touch-free clocks and automatic doors. Install plastic barriers when keeping a distance of 6 feet between individuals is not possible. Rearrange chairs and tables in break areas.
✓ Implement cleaning, disinfection and sanitation protocols. It is important for workers to have access to hand-washing stations and/or hand sanitizer and that they are encouraged to use them frequently. It is also important to have a good cleaning and sanitation plan to cover the high-use and shared areas.
There are companies available to do deep cleaning, and they can lay down an anti-microbial solution that will protect surfaces for 30 days. It would be a good idea to consider using one of these services every month during the season for your worker housing and possibly your office and frequently touched areas in the gin.
✓ Train workers in a language they understand about the signs and symptoms of coronavirus, proper infection control and social distancing practices. Tell them what to do if they or a coworker experiences symptoms.
✓ Encourage workers to use cloth face coverings in addition to staying 6 feet away from other workers.
✓ Provide personal protective equipment and train workers on proper use of PPE through videos or in-person visual demonstrations.
Set Up Small Groups
For workers who are not able to stay socially distanced, recommendations are to break them into smaller groups and keep each group separate to limit any outbreak. For example, always keep your day gin crew, night gin crew, office crew and trucking personnel separate.
Shared housing is more of a challenge. But to the extent possible, workers living in shared housing should be kept separate from other workers and the public as much as possible. If you provide worker housing, try to keep the workers in the same shift and the crew in the same quarters if possible.
If a worker becomes sick, clean and disinfect the work area, the equipment and the common areas in which the worker has been exposed. If the worker is in employer-furnished housing, move them to a dedicated space to recover. Also, clean and disinfect the living quarters and other areas used by this employee.
Employers should follow CDC guidelines for allowing workers to return to work after being exposed to COVID-19, testing positive for COVID-19 or after having symptoms. The guidelines are different depending on the specific situation.
Now is the time to familiarize yourself with the CDC guidance and work with your local association to be sure you are prepared for the upcoming season. The National Cotton Ginners’ Association has held Zoom conferences dealing with this topic, and the presentations are available online at https://bit.ly/3iBDn1r.
Good preparation will go a long way toward preventing a lot of problems during the season.
J. Kelley Green, TCGA director of technical services, contributed this article. Contact him at email@example.com.