Meat processing and COVID-19 safety
These resources are for employers in poultry processing, meat processing (beef, pork, and other meats), and shore-based seafood processing, including limited processing. These employers may also benefit from reviewing other protocols if their workplace includes other work environments such as office space.
Employers must also ensure they are abiding by any orders, notices, or guidance issued by the provincial health officer, and the appropriate health authority, which are relevant to their workplace. Employers must also comply with applicable provincial or federal licensing requirements for the bodies under which they are licenced.
Facilities that have been ordered closed by a public health authority, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, or another regulator due to a COVID-19 outbreak must follow the reopening plans and protocols approved by those agencies and the guidance provided here.
Developing a COVID-19 Safety Plan
Employers are required to develop a COVID-19 Safety Plan that outlines the policies, guidelines, and procedures they have put in place to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission. Employers must involve frontline workers, joint health and safety committees, and supervisors in identifying protocols for their workplace.
The COVID-19 Safety Plan follows the six steps outlined on COVID-19 and returning to safe operation. You can also refer to the COVID-19 Safety Plan OHS Guideline for information about developing a safety plan, including the level of detail required and use of supporting documentation.
Employers are not required to submit plans to WorkSafeBC for approval, but in accordance with the order of the provincial health officer, this plan must be posted at the worksite and on their website, if they have one. During a WorkSafeBC inspection, we will ask employers about the steps they have taken to protect their workers or to see the plan if it has been developed.
One part of developing your COVID-19 Safety Plan is identifying protocols that everyone at the workplace must follow to keep workers safe. We’ve provided industry-specific protocols below to use as you develop the plan for your workplace.
These protocols are not a list of requirements; however, they should be considered and implemented to the extent that they address the risks your workplace. You may need to identify and implement additional protocols if these do not sufficiently address the risk to your workers.
Understanding the risk
The virus that causes COVID-19 spreads in several ways, including through droplets when a person coughs or sneezes, and from touching a contaminated surface before touching the face. Higher risk situations require adequate protocols to address the risk.
- The risk of person-to-person transmission is increased the closer you come to other people, the amount of time you spend near them, and the number of people you come near. Physical distancing measures help mitigate this risk.
- The risk of surface transmission is increased when many people contact same surface, and when those contacts happen in short intervals of time. Effective cleaning and hygiene practices help mitigate this risk.
Selecting protocols for your workplace
Note that different protocols offer different protection. Wherever possible, use the protocols that offer the highest level of protection and add additional protocols as required.
First level protection (elimination): Use policies and procedures to keep people at a safe physical distance from one another. Limit the number of people in your workplace at any one time, and implement protocols to keep workers at least 2 metres from other workers, customers, and members of the public.
Second level protection (engineering controls): If you can’t always maintain physical distancing, install barriers such as plexiglass to separate people.
Third level protection (administrative controls): Establish rules and guidelines, such as cleaning protocols, telling workers to not share tools, or implementing one-way doors or walkways.
Fourth level protection (PPE): If the first three levels of protection aren’t enough to control the risk, consider the use of masks. Ensure masks are selected and cared for appropriately and that workers are using masks correctly.
Protocols for meat processing
- Stagger break times or provide temporary break areas to avoid large groups of workers during breaks in any area. Consider outdoor break areas (tents) to avoid overcrowding in existing break rooms.
- Stagger shift start and end times to avoid workers congregating near doorways, hallways, walkways, parking lots, break rooms, locker rooms, washrooms, time clock stations, etc.
- Consider adjusting production schedules to minimize the number of people in each area at one time (e.g., longer or shorter or different working days/shifts) to maximize physical distancing.
- Consider establishing work teams that work together routinely and exclusively to prevent the risk of broader transmission in your workplace. This may include grouping family members or roommates who already live together in the same household. For employers who manage multiple sites, consider limiting the movement of workers between worksites if possible.
- Separate the entrances, walking paths, and parking lots to minimize potential interaction between members of the public and workers.
- Establish hygiene practices that address the needs of the workplace and includes the requirement to wash or sanitize hands after coming into contact with public items.
- Ensure that any changes you make to the usage of communal areas is clearly communicated to workers.
- Consider single-person access if entry into a constricted area is required.
- Limit the number of workers allowed in common areas at any one time. Consider staggered break times to reduce large gatherings and encourage workers to take breaks at their own desk or outside. Limit or stagger workers entering change areas or rooms with assigned lockers.
- Encourage workers to eat outside or at their desk. Consider distancing the tables in lunch rooms, or installing plexiglass dividers at the tables.
- Restrict eating to a clearly identified and dedicated area with handwashing stations, cleaning and disinfecting supplies, and adequate space to maintain the physical distancing requirement.
- Ask workers to bring their own dishes and utensils.
- Refrain from providing or consuming communal food.
- Allow communal doors to remain open throughout the workday to reduce contact with door handles.
- Minimize the number of people using previously shared office equipment or other items (e.g., photocopiers, coffee machines, microwave ovens, etc.). Shared equipment should be cleaned and disinfected after each use.
- Determine and post occupancy limits for common areas. See the COVID-19 Safety Plan for guidance on establishing occupancy limits.
- Wherever possible, modify the alignment of workstations, including along processing lines, if feasible, so that workers are at least 2 metres apart in all directions (e.g., side-to-side and when facing one another). Modify the alignment of workstations so that workers do not face one another.
- Consider implementing other measures to allow workers to be spaced further apart on the line, including slowing the line or reducing the production capacity.
- Consider the use of tape or other markers on the floor to indicate work areas that are safe distances apart. You may also designate walking areas, including one-way corridors, if it makes sense for the configuration of your workplace.
- Where work stations cannot be kept 2 metres apart, consider installing physical barriers such as plexiglass.
- In cases where physical distancing cannot be maintained for longer than brief, passing encounters, and other control measures such as barriers cannot be used, masks should be worn to reduce the risk of transmission. Cloth and surgical masks may not protect the wearer from the virus because they do not form a tight seal with the face, but they can reduce the spread of the wearer’s respiratory droplets to others. Refer to WorkSafeBC's guidance on selecting and using masks.
- Develop communication methods between workers in noisy production areas that do not require them to come within 2 metres of one another. This may include the use of signs, hand signals, radios, cell phones, or other means.
- Requirements in section 5 of the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation, including WHMIS (Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System), will apply for most cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting chemicals and processes used in industrial settings.
- Consider doing more frequent deep cleaning and disinfecting of workstations and equipment in both production and non-production areas.
- See WorkSafeBC guidance on cleaning and disinfecting for more information.
- Employers should advise workers that carpooling should be restricted to members of the same household. If the employer forms work teams that work together often and exclusively, these groups may also have the option of carpooling.
- If the employer offers worker transportation, measures to ensure at least 2 metres of distance is maintained in the vehicle may include: having workers sit as far apart as the vehicle will allow, adjusting the number of workers per trip, increasing the number of trips needed to transport workers, and using larger vehicles or multiple vehicles.
- Track who drives which vehicles and minimize changes in teams or vehicle assignments.
- If it is not possible to ensure 2 metres of distance between workers in a vehicle through these measures, the employer must consider other control measures, such as the use of masks where appropriate.
- Employers must also implement a process that allows for physical distancing when loading and unloading buses or other vehicles. Workers waiting for loading and unloading should maintain physical distancing while remaining safely away from traffic.
- Employers should have handwashing facilities or sanitizing stations available to workers as they enter and exit the vehicle.
- Employers must ensure that high contact surfaces in all workplace vehicles are routinely cleaned and disinfected as part of the workplace cleaning protocol. These include seatbelts, headrests, door handles, steering wheels, and hand holds.
- Where possible and safe, minimize operator and driver changes.
- Ensure physical distancing of all workers, including forklift and mobile equipment operators, and delivery truck drivers.
- All surfaces that have been touched in the operation of the mobile equipment and vehicle must be sanitized before use or after an operator or driver change. This includes the seatbelt and seatbelt buckle. Include these in the cleaning and sanitizing protocols developed for your workplace.
- Stagger delivery and pick-up times of shipping and receiving orders to reduce potential exposure of drivers to workers Increase space between workers and customers by opening a drive-through service.
- Mark off designated area for delivery drivers to wait while in the shipping/receiving area.
- Designate areas for everyone in the shipping and receiving area to ensure physical distance can be maintained.
- Wash hands or use hand sanitizer after handling documents.
- Ensure information and training is provided in the required languages so it can be understood by everyone in your facility.
- Conduct as much of the education or training outside of the noisy production environment as possible, and in settings where physical distancing of at least 2 metres can be achieved.
- Establish hygiene practices that address the needs of the workplace and that includes the requirement to wash or sanitize hands after coming into contact with shared or public items.
- Minimize the sharing of tools and equipment and wherever possible. Provide each worker their own set of tools if possible.
See the following links for additional information, guidance, or resources that may assist you in the development of your plan.
- Fraser Health Authority: Coronavirus Disease COVID-19 Guideline for Food Processing Facilities, April 28, 2020.
- Vancouver Coastal Health Authority: Coronavirus Disease COVID-19 Guideline for Food Processing Facilities, April 28, 2020.
- Meat and Poultry Processing Workers and Employers. Interim Guidance from US Centre for Disease Control and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
- CFIA expectations for the prevention of and response to suspected and confirmed cases of COVID-19 by operators
- CFIA expectations for the prevention of and response to suspect and confirmed cases of COVID-19 by Meat Slaughter and Processing Establishments
- Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
- CCOHS (COVID-19) Tip Sheets – Food Processing
- Canadian Federation of Agriculture
- Manufacturing Safety Alliance of BC
- BCCDC guidance for workers in food processing facilities