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Keeping Farm & Landscape Workers Safe: Steps Employers Can Take to Protect Workers

This blog is part of a series focused on keeping agricultural and green industry employees safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Other blogs in the series cover information employers need to share with employees and what to do if an employee is sick or exposed to COVID-19.

Farm workers and green industry professionals (landscapers, tree trimmers, pesticide/fertilizer applicators, etc.) already face risks from heat illness, equipment injury, agri-chemical exposure, and other workplace hazards.  With the outbreak of COVID-19, they now face an additional risk as they work to produce our food and maintain our urban landscapes.  Some of our local agricultural employers have reached out to UF/IFAS Extension for guidance in keeping their workplaces safe during the pandemic.  Below is a summary of current guidance, based on the CDC’s Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to Coronavirus Disease (accessed April 17, 2020) and Executive Orders issued by Florida Governor DeSantis.  Another very helpful and well-organized manual is OSHA’s Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19 (accessed April 17, 2020).  As information about COVID-19 changes frequently, this blog is intended as a basic summary of the major considerations, with links where you can access the most current guidance from the CDC and OSHA.

What steps can I take as an employer to promote safety?
  • Provide training for your employees on the steps they can take to protect themselves and others, both at home and at work.
  • Enlist the help of an employee or employees, who could serve as a workplace coordinator(s) of COVID-19 issues and impacts to the business.  Businesses with more than one location are encouraged to have local managers at each location.
  • Review your leave policies to make sure you are flexible with employees who need to stay home when they are sick, care for a sick family member, or care for children.  Options could include offering advances on future sick leave, allowing employees to donate to a sick leave pool, or providing other emergency sick leave.  The US Division of Labor offers information for employers on wages, hours, and leave, including required posters notifying employees of their sick leave and expanded family and medical leave rights under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.
  • Make sure your human resource policies are consistent with public health recommendations and workplace laws.  The US Department of Labor and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) both offer coronavirus resource pages.  The EEOC has a helpful FAQ publication, outlining the types of medical information employers may collect from employees, confidentiality of information, reasonable accomodations for employees, and more.  Additionally, OSHA offers Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19, which recommends specific protections for employees, based on their exposure risk.
  • Offer available social, behavioral, and other services to employees, including employee assistance program (EAP) resources and community resources.
  • If you have contract or temporary employees, make sure their employing company is offering non-punitive leave policies and encouraging sick employees to stay home.
  • Establish social distancing policies, avoiding large gatherings and maintaining distance (6 foot or 2 meters) from others when possible.  Options to support social distancing include: telework, staggered shifts, increased worksite physical spacing among employees and between employees and customers, postponing non-essential meetings and events, and holding meetings via teleconferencing or videoconferencing when possible.  When meetings must be held in-person, use a meeting space that is open and well-ventilated.
  • Keep the workplace clean and well-ventilated.  Consider increasing building ventilation rates and increasing the percentage of outdoor air circulating into the system.  Provide cleaning and disinfection supplies (soap and water, hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol, tissues, disinfection supplies meeting the EPA’s criteria for use against SARS-Cov-2, no-touch trash receptacles, etc.) at multiple locations, and keep the supplies available for use.  Post information reminding employees of hand hygiene, stop the spread, and coughing/sneezing etiquette. Clean and disinfect all frequently touched workplace surfaces regularly.
  • If you have an employee who is suspected or confirmed as having COVID-19, follow the CDC recommendations to perform enhanced cleaning and disinfection.
  • Keep track of CDC Traveler’s Health Notices and stay in communications with employees about their travel and associated precautions.

What about masks?

Under certain circumstances, the CDC recommends wearing a mask.  For example, interim guidance for workers who are asymptomatic but may have been exposed (accessed April 17, 2020) to COVID-19, states they must wear a face mask at all times in the workplace for 14 days after exposure.

In some cases, workers have to travel in the same vehicle or work in close proximity to one another, and use of a face mask or cloth face covering can provide some protection.  University of Florida provides information on proper handling and use of face masks, making DIY masks, and using bandanas as protective face coverings.  Wearing a face mask does NOT provide complete protection and does not replace other precautions, such as social distancing, avoiding large gatherings, washing hands, and keeping hands away from nose/mouth/eyes.

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