COVID-Safe practices for your horticultural business

On Thursday 23 September, over 50 NGIV members joined our webinar to hear from Dr John Parkes, on COVID-Safe practices for horticultural businesses.

Dr John Parkes, Senior Medical Advisor for the Department of Health delivered a detailed presentation highlighting the steps horticultural businesses can take to minimise the risk of a positive COVID case and how to adapt operations if there is one.

Dr Parkes began by stressing the highly infectious nature of the Delta strain and whilst the Victorian horticulture industry had previously navigated the pandemic without any positive cases, this represents a much more serious challenge. He encouraged a change of attitude from ‘if’ the virus impacts your workplace, to ‘when’.

What happens if you have a case at your site?

If you have a positive COVID case at your workplace it becomes the responsibility of the Local Public Health Unit. As a business, you need to be able to quickly inform them who was on site when that case was infectious (two days before becoming symptomatic, or if asymptomatic, two days before the positive test) and who was, and was not, in close contact.  

Who gets deemed a Tier 1 (isolate at home for 14 days, with tests along the way) and a Tier 2 (Test and isolate at home until negative test result) will depend on the workplace bubbles a business has operated.

A two step deep clean must be executed; cleaning with detergent first and then a disinfectant from the approved TGA list. This can be completed without having to close the site and work can then continue with ‘clean’ staff from other shifts, bubbles or perhaps labour hire.

How can we give ourselves the best chance to keep our site open?

Having a tight, updated, practised COVID-Safe Plan that:

1. Stops the virus getting into your site

2. If the virus does get into your site, severely limiting its spread; and

3. Proactively and aggressively manages any cases on site to affect your business in the smallest way possible.

How to stop the virus getting into your site

  •       Making sure workers don’t attend work if they, or people in their household, are symptomatic.

  •          Regularly communicate your expectations with your employees and ensure CALD communities understand your instructions. Communicate local exposure sites that may impact your workforce.

  •          Be mindful of workers that attend several sites and try to keep them in a bubble from your other workers.

  •          Avoid any unnecessary visitors, if a visitor is essential, ensure they don’t come into close contact with your team. Take the same approach with drivers, ensure they have their own bubble wherever possible.

  •          Be mindful of workers who have household members in high-risk sites or parents to school children; try to bubble these workers together if possible.

  •          Encourage staff not to carpool.

  •          Try to maintain a consistent, ongoing workforce.

How to limit the spread of the virus if it reaches your site

  •          If possible, operate your business with split shifts and no crossovers.

  •          Put your workforce into bubbles wherever feasible; a potting bubble, a despatch bubble, etc.

  •          Consider having same household members in the same bubble and likewise for parents of school children.

  •          Have separate entries, exits, toilets and lunchrooms for different shifts and bubbles.

  •          Encourage staff to avoid mixing bubbles/shifts during smoking breaks, carpark encounters and after work.

  •          Staff who need to work across multiple bubbles/shifts (e.g. – managers, maintenance staff, etc) should endeavour to remain physically distanced.

  •          Use of masks, social distancing and sanitising, are all still important measures.

  •          If you have capacity to engage a COVID marshal to ensure your team operate in a COVID-Safe fashion, it is recommended.

  •          Avoid indoor environments without ventilation as much as possible.

  •          Communicate the benefits of getting vaccinated to your team and encourage them to do so; whilst respecting their personal wishes.

Final message

Dr Parkes left attendees with the message that this is real, the number of cases are increasing but we can all play a part in minimising risk and to do so many of us need to raise our game.   

 

The webinar concluded with a Q&A session that gave attendees the opportunity to ask their specific questions.  

A big thank you to Dr Parkes for giving us his time and expert knowledge.  We’d also like to thank Agriculture Victoria for bringing this opportunity to industry. And thank you to all of you that attended. 

For small, specific advice on ensuring you are operating in a COVID-Safe fashion email [email protected].

If you are in a situation where a member of staff tests positive to COVID-19, please ensure you notify the NGIV office, the matter will be treated in the strictest of confidence.