How the new strain of COVID-19 could affect the pig sector
18th Jan 2021 / By Rebecca Veale
The effects of covid continue to be felt by the pig sector as the new strain of COVID-19 spreads across the country.
As we learn more about this coronavirus it has become apparent that the virus has longer-term effects for some that have contracted it, and this has obvious implications for employers.
Members can see the latest version of our COVID-19 guide (updated today) in the Members Hot Topics area
Yorkshire producer Stephen Tuer felt the impact of COVID when 40% of his staff were off sick with it over Christmas. With building work delayed due to the pandemic and the cold spell in full flow, the task list each day was already more labour intensive - this got worse with all the staff off sick. But Stephen was well prepared with protocols in place.
“We’d carried out the risk assessment and put in place measures to keep staff apart and safe, but it isn’t always easy in practice," he said.
"Despite all of our preventative work the virus did come in and spread amongst staff; it became apparent to us how destructive the virus can be, and we prepared. We were able to manage but it was hard work and put pressure on the staff which hadn’t tested positive.
“The ability of the virus to spread is a reminder for us on the biosecurity we put in place on our units to keep pigs healthy, if we don’t follow protocols we can easily bring something in which is detrimental to the health of the whole herd.”
So, what can you do?
Employers with five members of staff or more must carry out and write down a risk assessment for COVID-19. One of the key elements of it is working out how to mitigate some of these risks.
We have some suggestions below to help. This is a good place to start, and whilst stopping staff from getting covid is impossible, reducing the risk of spread is within control.
- Ensure your workers have access to information about proper protocol (e.g. hand washing) to limit transmission.
- Ensure there is plenty of soap or sanitiser, hand-washing is frequent and towels, phones etc. are also kept clean.
- Put in place a rota for cleaning of shared staff facilities, including wiping door handles, kettles, fridge and other equipment which comes into contact with people’s hands.
- Ask staff not to share equipment or machinery where possible, such as tractors, quad bikes etc. (if they do sanitise in-between).
- Ask staff to take breaks separately to avoid contact. Staff could even be asked to have lunch in their cars or sit further apart than usual.
- Staff could be encouraged to get ahead with tasks while there is close to a full complement of staff, so that the burden is reduced if there are staff shortages in future.
- Ask staff to work separately where possible, with doors kept open, where feasible
- Where practical, staff should work independently on farm, minimising contact. But only if it is safe to do so.
- Split teams and prevent physical contact between them, where possible, to retain as many workers as possible if one team were to be affected by COVID-19.
- Limit or restrict visitors to the farm or business operation.
Policies and responsibilities
- Businesses that provide housing for their workers will need to ensure their risk management plan considers large numbers of employees being quarantined or requiring health care.
- Ensure your workers are aware of their responsibility to properly notify you if they are feeling unwell or of any risk of exposure to COVID-19 they may have encountered.
- Communicate clearly with your workers about your expectations and HR policies regarding sick leave.
- Ensure that workers with symptoms of or exposure to COVID-19 are supported to self-isolate and encouraged to take the test for COVID-19.
- Businesses that are receiving foreign workers should monitor advisories from the government.
This is a very uncertain and difficult time for all with many potentially experiencing high levels of distress or anxiety. If you or any of your staff are struggling, please consider contacting any of the following mental health support organisations:
The Farming Community Network (FCN)
Phone: 03000 111 999
You Are Not Alone (YANA)
Phone: 0300 323 0400
Lincolnshire Rural Support Network (LRSN)
Phone: 0800 138 1710
The Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (RABI)
Phone: 0808 281 9490
Phone: 116 123
Phone: 0300 123 3393
Mind has put together a Coronavirus hub with information on supporting mental wellbeing through the outbreak.
The Government has put together some guidance on the mental health and wellbeing aspects of COVID-19.