Apr 7, 2020
Ag worker protection advisory shared for Michigan operations

Even though Michigan’s agricultural industry is recognized as a critical and essential infrastructure industry under Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-at-home order, agricultural employers need to continue protecting the health of workers and the broader community.

Whitmer’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” Executive Order 2020-21 order came April 3.

While, maintaining a safe and healthy work environment for agricultural employees is always a priority, Bob Boehm, general manager of Great Lakes Ag Labor Services (GLALS), says farm employers are encouraged to take additional precautions to minimize the impact of COVID-19 in the workplace.

According to Boehm, GLALS, Michigan Farm Bureau (MFB), and the Michigan Agricultural Commodity Marketing Association (MACMA) have developed an online “Advisory for Michigan Agriculture Worker Protection During COVID-19 Crisis outlining recommended practices and procedures during the state’s COVID-19 pandemic to enhance farm worker protection, health, safety, and hygiene.

“We know that many Michigan farms have already instituted a wide-range of precautions, including daily employee briefings, periodic sanitation of equipment and housing, and posted signs about social distancing,” Boehm said.

“But we hope that making this on-line advisory available to farmers and their employees will serve as a centralized clearing-house of protective measures, that includes links to posters and many other on-line resources and can easily be updated as new information becomes available.”

Utilizing information and recommendations from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Michigan Department of Public Health, and Michigan State University, MACMA General Manager Dawn Drake said the advisory provides specific steps for farmers to prevent and reduce COVID-19 transmission among farmworkers.

“Farmers are mindful of how quickly COVID-19 could devastate their families, their workers, their farm operations and local communities – even one case is too many on the farm,” Drake said. “This advisory is specifically targeted to the agricultural community to help maintain farm and food processing operations and, ultimately, minimize adverse effects throughout the food supply chain.”

Within the advisory, farmers are encouraged to develop an emergency plan for their operations. MFB horticultural specialist, Audrey Sebolt, said emergency planning begins with addressing several “what-if” scenarios in the event of an emergency.

“This should include all aspects of your farm business operations, from the office to the field,” Sebolt said. “What if key managers/supervisors or individual fieldworkers become ill with COVID-19? Who will administer payroll, conduct spraying operations, manage daily workflow, or oversee field activities?”

Sebolt added farmers are facing a situation that underscores the need for flexibility to work with local authorities to perform any required safety inspections, following CDC guidance, and have a plan in place to quarantine workers who may become ill.

“Every worker’s health is of the utmost importance on the farm, and farmers continue to urge all their employees to consult medical professionals at the first sign of any COVID-19 related symptoms,” Sebolt said. “Safety remains a top priority across the food chain, with everyone — from the farm to the grocery store.”

Available as a PDF File, the Advisory for Michigan Agriculture Worker Protection During COVID-19 Crisis can be downloaded by producers and employees to share with family members and farmworkers.

“We expect the advisory to be also be available in Spanish shortly, so producers are encouraged to check back often for availability, as well as updates to the document as warranted,” he said.

Michigan Farm Bureau and Michigan Farm News are committed to providing its members and readers with the latest news and information on the COVID-19 pandemic. For news, updates and resources, visit https://www.michfb.com/MI/Coronavirus/. The page will be updated daily as more information becomes available.

Dennis Rudat, Farm News Media

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