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This is interim guidance and will be updated over time.

This guidance is of a general nature and should be treated as a guide, in the event of any conflict between applicable legislation (including health and safety legislation) and this guidance, the applicable legislation shall prevail.

Who this guidance is for

This guidance is intended for meat and food plants. This also includes important information about risk of community dissemination of COVID-19 from circumstances or activities related to the workplace such as transportation and accommodation arrangements.

Symptoms

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness. The most important symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19) are recent onset of any of the following: 

  • a new continuous cough
  • a high temperature
  • a loss of, or change in, your normal sense of taste or smell (anosmia)

For most people coronavirus (COVID-19) will be a mild illness. However, anyone who develops symptoms must self-isolate at home and not go to work following Stay at Home Guidance and should arrange to have a test to see if they have COVID-19 by visiting testing or contacting NHS 119 via telephone if they do not have internet access.

What you need to know about coronavirus and food

Although it is very unlikely that coronavirus is transmitted through food or food packaging, as a matter of good hygiene practice anyone handling food must wash their hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. This should be done routinely, before and after handling food, when moving between different areas of the workplace, and especially after being in a public place, blowing their nose, coughing, or sneezing. Food packaging should be handled in line with usual food hygiene practices and staff should continue to follow existing risk assessments and safe systems of working.

Any food handler or other employee who develops symptoms that could be COVID-19 must self-isolate at home and should arrange to have a test to see if they have COVID-19 by visiting testing or contacting NHS 119 via telephone if they do not have internet access.

Meat and food plants should continue to follow the Food Standard Agency’s (FSA) guidance on good hygiene practices in food preparation and their Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) processes, and preventative practices (PRP’s).However, additional measures to prevent the spread between food handlers as explained below, are required in response to COVID-19.

Employers and managers must take steps to support their staff to adhere to government guidance to keep the workplace safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prevention and management of outbreaks - the role of employers

The Welsh Government has provided a range of guidance to help employers, employees and the self-employed understand how to work safely during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Because we want workplaces and workers in Wales to be safe, we are asking all employers and employees to:

  • show care by acting with compassion and understanding
  • comply with laws designed to keep us all safe
  • involve everyone because safety is a shared endeavour
  • adapt work places and behaviours
  • and to communicate with clarity and consistency

Workplace risk assessment

Potential exposure to Covid19 in the workplace is a new risk that must be incorporated into workplace risk assessments. Employers must therefore carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment if they have not already done so. This will enable employers to mitigate and manage the risks posed by COVID-19 for their employees and their businesses. You must consult all your workers on health and safety. It is a two way process, allowing workers to raise concerns and influence decisions on managing health and safety. You can find advice to support this engagement through HSE Guidance. The risk assessment should be published on company web sites.

There is a hierarchy of control measures that should be applied to deal with any health and safety risks. Applying this to Covid emphasises the importance of isolating potentially infective people and then the importance of physical distancing. Health risk assessment should also be undertaken to evaluate the risk to Black and Minority Ethnic workers particularly in combination with other health issues.

Food Innovation Wales has worked in collaboration with the Food & Drink Wales Industry Board to provide advice for food and drink manufacturers in Wales in relation to the risks presented by Coronavirus. This resource includes analysing and documenting operational risks, a checklist for businesses, a list of useful references and a tool kit of templates.

The NHS Wales Test, Trace, Protect service is key to helping manage the risk of COVID-19 spreading further in the community and in workplaces. It is essential that you take steps to enable your staff to comply with the requirements of the NHS Wales Test, Trace and Protect service.

It is vital that you as employer play your part by:

  • reducing risk to an acceptable level through implementing the recommendations in this and other relevant guidance that applies to your workplace
  • encouraging and enabling workers to follow any notifications to self-isolate and supporting them when in isolation

Alongside this guidance, employers can find further advice and tips for manufacturing businesses on the Welsh Government website.

Consultation

Each workplace should set up a COVID 19 task group made up of senior managers and trade union representatives. The group should meet regularly to review all risk assessments and procedures, not exhaustive for example:

  • procedure for supporting the test and track system
  • process for self - isolation including pay. Self - isolation will not occur if pay is absent, causing infection to spread.
  • process for workers who are shielding
  • induction and training programmes including regular briefings
  • social distancing guidelines and infection control measures
  • review of hygiene products and PPE regards availability including cleaners.
  • review cleaning and maintenance programmes
  • check all equipment and service to ensure in safe working order
  • review barriers, floor markings, posters and signs
  • arrange regular inspections of workplace observing social distancing

Communication

Communication with employees should be a high priority, and should:

  1. Ensure that all the workforce fully understands and are personally committed to safe working practices, and
  2. Enable managers to listen to the experiences and views of staff and adjust their risk mitigation measures appropriately.

The following considerations are recommended:

  • Material in languages other than English/ Welsh. Ensuring that materials are available in the preferred languages of employees is essential.
  • Visual messages, with use of pictures of good and bad practice, in addition to written information.
  • Frequent updates of communication (weekly is suggested) to prevent it becoming stale.
  • Live communication, TV screens, and digital signs where feasible.

A toolkit of test, trace, protect materials is available. This includes downloadable digital and print assets for your use in employee communications, covering key information such as knowing symptoms, how to get a test and the contact tracing process. Additional workplace posters are available to download.

Accommodation and transport

Where you are responsible for providing accommodation and transport to the workplace for staff, the following considerations are recommended:

Shared accommodation

  • Some staff are likely to live in houses of multiple occupation, which can make home isolation difficult, advice for housing and promoting messages to staff to focus on cleaning, social distancing and access to shared spaces such as kitchens and living areas to limit crowding.
  • Where possible, workers in a shared residential accommodation should also be within the same cohort in the workplace (see cohort approach below).

Transport arrangements

  • Travel arrangements should be in line with published including taking precautions using public transport.
  • Employees who live a reasonable distance from work the best and advised option is to walk or cycle to work. For those new to cycling to work, organisations such as Sustrans may be of assistance. 
  • Where use of public transport is essential, follow the advice for transport and follow advice issued by transport providers.
  • Where possible, shared transport should be avoided, but if unavoidable and car sharing arrangements are in place:
    • Efforts should be made to minimise the number of workers in each vehicle. Multiple trips limited to 2 people in a standard car. 
    • Social distancing to be observed in larger vehicles.
    • Consider cohorting workers who share accommodation and work area (see cohort approach below).
    • Workers who are unwell should not use shared transport and should stay at home and not go to work. Consider using visible marshals to ensure unwell staff do not board shared transport. Anyone found to be unwell in transit should be taken off the shared transport and returned to their accommodation and supported to follow the stay at home guidance.
    • Journeys should be shared with the same individual and sit diagonally behind the driver.
    • Good ventilation (i.e. keeping the windows open) and facing away from each other may help to reduce the risk of transmission.
    • Private vehicles, including minibuses, which are used by people from multiple households, should be cleaned regularly using gloves and standard cleaning products, with particular emphasis on handles and other areas where passengers may touch surfaces. In order to allow for physical distancing, they should operate at a lower occupancy rate (e.g 30%).
    • Consider PPE as a last resort.

Managing entry into a food production site/area

  1. Maintain 2 metre physical distancing on approach to the entrance. Information at the gates should include guidance on measures undertaken on site to reduce the risk.
  2. Hand washing facilities or hand sanitiser should be available at the entry site.
  3. Ensure social distancing of 2 metres while awaiting entry.
  4. Consider staggering shift starting times to minimise crowding at entry points and ensure social distancing.
  5. Avoid biometric methods that involve touching screens or scanners.
  6. Consider screening such as temperature screening or symptom checking at entry.
  7. Limit opportunities for contact between staff permanently based at the workplace and transient/ mobile staff such as hauliers, transport staff and contractors.
  8. Limit unnecessary visits to the site and visitors including delivery drivers to the site will need to be made aware of all site protocols and provided with access to welfare facilities.
  9. Consider designating managers or senior staff to act as visible marshals to supervise entry points. Consult with union representatives to ensure fairness.
  10. Ensure staff are dressed in agreed and approved manner – any PPE, work wear, face coverings are issued and/or approved by you as not introducing a hazard to food safety. The selection of appropriate PPE and work wear is the employer’s responsibility and representatives and workers must be consulted on selection.

Throughout the facility

  1. Hand washing facilities or hand sanitiser should be provided throughout the workplace. Hand hygiene stations should be regularly checked and supplies replenished.
  2. Hand hygiene should be promoted at all entry points to the workplace and between different sections in the workplace.
  3. Hand hygiene should be promoted at break times and between shifts in order to help break any chain of infection. Notices should be placed to promote this. Consider the use of visible marshals.
  4. Avoid queues at all times by staggered breaks and shift changeovers
  5. Wherever possible, social distancing of 2 metres between workers must be facilitated, both alongside each other and face-to-face. If employers have not be able to ensure 2m distancing, then work should be done so individuals face away from each other.
  6. Wherever possible, avoid shoulder-to-shoulder working on production lines or in offices.
  7. Respiratory hygiene must be promoted at all times – coughing and/or sneezing into a tissue and binning it immediately or coughing and/or sneezing into the elbow followed by hand washing. Display information in appropriate languages throughout the workplace.
  8. Where social distancing of 2 metres cannot be achieved, employers must demonstrate that reasonable measures are in place as set out in guidance under regulation 7A of the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (Wales) Regulations 2020. This should include consideration of Perspex screens, which should be cleaned at the end of each shift.
  9. Consider use of CCTV as an aid to assist with compliance with social distancing and hygiene measures, including in communal areas outside the main workspace, where you should consider relevant data protection codes. The process is to learn lessons and suggest improvements, such as training, briefings that encourage the right culture and behaviour.

Maintaining social distancing within the workplace

Consider reducing staffing density at any time in the workplace by:

  1. staggering shift start and end times.
  2. consider reducing the number of workers per shift if possible.
  3. create a break between shifts supported by visible marshalling to minimise overlap and to enable effective cleaning of the working areas.
  4. ensure all markers, signs, posters appropriate barriers are in place.

Communal areas

Due to potential difficulties in maintaining social distancing, COVID-19 transmission may be a particular concern in communal areas, in particular: smoking areas, canteens, rest areas, toilets and locker rooms. Managers should be aware that behaviour changes may occur as people transfer from a working to a non-working area. This may not be a conscious decision but underlines the need for regular reminders for staff regarding social distancing requirements.

You should consider the following actions:

  1. Systematic, frequent and effective cleaning of corridors, stairs, locker rooms and toilets should be documented, implemented and verified.
  2. Increasing the frequency of cleaning, especially common hand touch surfaces, such as tables tops, drinks levers, keypads, grab-rails, elevator buttons, light switches, door handles and contact plates, and any surface or item which is designed to be or has a high likelihood of being touched.
  3. Visible monitoring and enforcement by management. It is strongly recommended that there should be visible marshalling by dedicated staff at all points where staff may congregate or at “pinch” points of people flow in the plant.
  4. Make social distancing more manageable by increasing the amount of space available for communal activities by considering measures such as use of outdoor space, or of marquees and other temporary structures where feasible.
  5. Consider maximum numbers allowed at any one time, you could post these at the entrance to such areas to aid compliance.
  6. Improved documentation (Standard Operating Procedures) for the cleaning and checking of all communal areas in the way HACCP applies in production areas.
  7. You should conduct regular appropriate reviews to identify areas for improvement and to guide workers to follow best practice.

Staff canteens / restaurants

  1. Hand washing facilities or hand sanitiser must be available at the entrance to canteens and should be supervised.
  2. Break times should be staggered to ensure no overcrowding so that social distancing can be implemented.
  3. Queue points on the floor should be clearly marked to ensure social distancing.
  4. There must be no sharing of food and drink by staff who do not share a household.
  5. As far as possible, food served and/or displayed should be individually wrapped to further avoid any contamination.
  6. Increase the frequency of cleaning, especially hand touch surfaces, such as tables tops, drinks levers, keypads, grab-rails, elevator buttons, light switches, door handles, and cutlery, and any surface or item which is designed to be, or has a high likelihood of being touched.
  7. Canteens should be thoroughly cleaned after each group of staff use them
  8. All doors and windows should remain open to allow greater ventilation and prevent touching of window handles (subject to appropriate fly screening).
  9. A cashless system should be used, the exclusive use of debit cards should be considered.
  10. Where possible, cohorts of workers should be matched to zoned canteen areas (see below for description of cohort working).

Locker rooms and toilets

  1. Systematic, more frequent and effective cleaning of locker rooms and toilets should be documented, implemented and verified. Emphasis should be on hand touch surfaces such as taps, door handles, touch plates and flush handles.
  2. Hand washing or hand sanitiser must be available before and after entry to shared toilet facilities.
  3. Use needs to be managed to allow for social distancing.
  4. If social distancing is not possible in locker rooms, consider more space, for example, erecting temporary or prefabricated additional space.

Within designated work areas / work stations

On Site

  1. Movement of staff between establishments including factory workers, canteen staff (if contract caterers) or cleaning staff should be avoided.
  2. Staff should work from home where possible.
  3. Face to face meetings should be minimised and replaced with virtual meetings where possible. This may not be practical for meetings with plant staff, where other communications are not suitable social distancing measures should be implemented and maintained.
  4. COVID-19- specific management meetings should be put in place and take place regularly.

Production lines

  1. If possible, consider setting or changing production at a level that allows social distancing to be put in place to overcome crowded and cramped conditions. This could include hanging carcasses only on every 2nd or 3rd hook on the line, reducing numbers in production areas, spacing out workstations with a zig-zag layout or slowing line speed.
  2. Shift start times should be staggered to enable effective social distancing.
  3. If 2 metres of space between work stations absolutely cannot be attained, then employers must take reasonable measures as set out in guidance under regulation 7A of the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (Wales) Regulations 2020. Perspex screens could be installed between each person and they should be cleaned at the end of every shift.
  4. Consider the possibility of reducing the number of workers per shift.
  5. There should be a break in the time between the end of one shift and the start of another to ensure social distancing between workers entering and leaving and effective cleaning of the working area.
  6. Notice boards and television units should display information on COVID-19, particularly on hand-hygiene, social distancing and respiratory hygiene. Infographics and appropriate languages should be used where possible to ensure clear communication to all.
  7. Avoid generation of aerosols as much as possible.  Power washing should be high throughput/lower pressure rather than low throughput/high pressure to minimise the risk of spray and aerosol generation.
  8. Consult with a professional ventilation company, to assess that the correct amount of air changes are taking place. It is important that fresh air comes into all areas in the building and stale air is removed at a constant rate applicable to area size ratios.
  9. Take what measures are possible to keep noise levels to a minimum to avoid the need for staff to communicate by shouting.
  10. Ensure that the cleaning of machinery and all surfaces is done thoroughly and as frequently as possible to avoid transmission of infection by touch.
  11. Review practices of the use of items such as knives that could potentially spread infection if used by more than one person.
  12. The government has provided FSA guidance on cleaning and waste disposal to help businesses reduce the spread of coronavirus.

Cohort approach

Wherever possible employees should be organised into cohorts or groups built around natural work teams. Cohorts work together, take their breaks together, change together, and travel together if relevant. If one person then becomes infected this increases the ability for only members of that particular cohort to be excluded and facilitates the smoother running of the facility.

Consider creating cohorts or groups of staff to minimise contact and reduce potential transmission. Cleaning should also be scheduled around zones and agreed cohort arrangements.

Managing COVID-19 cases in the workplace

Case Development within the workplace

If anyone develops symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19) in the business or workplace they should be sent home and advised to follow the stay at home guidance. If an employer is concerned regarding business impacts, then there is a range of financial support and help for employers and employees which can be accessed through Business Wales.

It is not necessary to close the business or workplace or send any staff home unless you are advised to do so following investigation by NHS Test, Trace and Protect Service. You should keep monitoring the government response to coronavirus for further updates.

Employers can access Test, Trace and Protect Guidance for further information.

Contact tracing: if your employee receives a positive test result

  • If one of your employees receives a positive COVID-19 result, they will be called by a contact tracer on behalf of the NHS Wales Test, Trace, Protect service.
  • The contact tracer will ask for information such as the places they have visited, and their recent contacts including anyone they may or may not live or work with. This includes individuals with whom they have been in close proximity on any occasion during a period beginning up to two days before they started experiencing symptoms.
  • They will be asked for their names, dates of birth, addresses, telephone numbers (including mobile) and email addresses, if they have this information.

A contact means:

  • someone within 1 metre of them with whom they have had a face-to-face-conversation, had skin-to-skin physical contact, have coughed on, or been in other forms of contact within 1 metre or 1 minute or longer
  • someone within 2 metres of them for more than 15 minutes
  • someone they have travelled in a vehicle with - or has been seated near them on public transport.

The contact tracer will take into consideration any additional circumstances, such as contacts who work in health and social care professional roles and the correct use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), any protective screens used in the workplace, and adherence to the 2m distancing rule which, if correctly followed, will not be regarded as a contact for these purposes.

Contact tracing: if one of your employees is identified as a confirmed contact

If one of your employees is identified as a confirmed contact of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, the NHS Wales Test, Trace, Protect service will contact them. This is because they would be at increased risk of catching the disease and passing it on to others.

They will be asked to self-isolate for 14 days to make sure they don’t spread the virus. It is really important that they do this even if they do not have any symptoms. If someone has been infected, they could become infectious to others at any point up to 14 days. Members of their family are not required to self-isolate, but they should follow the general social distancing guidance and avoid contact with your employee whilst they are isolating at home.

They will be asked to notify you as their employer that they have been identified as a confirmed contact. They will also be asked to monitor their symptoms daily so that they can get tested as soon as possible if needed. They will only be advised to take a test if they are displaying symptoms. Testing if an individual is not displaying symptoms can generate false negatives and is therefore not recommended.

Supporting workers who need to self-isolate

Employers must support and ensure that workers who need to self-isolate are allowed to act immediately, and must not ask them to attend the workplace if they have been advised to stay at home. It is important to drive the right behaviours amongst workers, employers should ensure that self-isolations is not recorded as unauthorised or sickness absence. Employers should also ensure that employees who are required to self-isolate do not suffer a financial detriment as a result of self-isolation.

Outbreak preparedness

You should ensure:

  • A Business Continuity Plan is prepared and updated.
  • A Single Point of Contact (SPOC) is nominated to ensure that the correct contact point for outbreak management is identified in advance of any outbreak and leads on liaison with local Public Health teams.

Multiple cases in the workplace

If there is more than one case of COVID-19 associated with your workplace at any time, you should contact your local public health team to report the suspected outbreak.

There is a multiagency approach to work with you as employers before an outbreak would be declared in the setting, this could include Public Health Wales, Food Standard Agency, Health and Safety Executive and local authorities. You will be asked to record details of symptomatic staff and assist with identification of contacts. You will be provided with information about the outbreak management process, which will help you to implement control measures, assist with communications to staff, and reinforce prevention messages.

Food hygiene guidance

A Food Safety Management System (FSMS) that includes existing food hygiene guidance and HACCP processes should be followed.

Where you have made changes to your routine ways of working in response to COVID-19, it is important to review your HACCP procedures to consider and reflect any impact from these changes on food safety. The FSA has provided guidance for food businesses on adapting and reopening due to COVID-19.

Employers should stress the importance of more frequent handwashing and maintaining good hygiene practices in food preparation and handling areas. Employees should wash their hands for 20 seconds, especially after being in a public place, blowing their nose, coughing or sneezing.

Frequently clean and disinfect objects and surfaces that are touched regularly, using your standard cleaning products.

The FSA’s guidance on good hygiene practices guidance on good hygiene practices food preparation and their HACCP processes guidance is intended to ensure staff follow good hygiene practices to prevent the transfer of infectious agents to food. Key safety points include being fit for work, washing hands and wearing aprons or other clean clothing as appropriate. Return to work after an absence of two or more days for whatever reason will benefit from a screening process for fitness to work using a monitored screening questionnaire. 

The FSA Safe Method checklist allows employers to assess the personal hygiene and fitness to work practices in their workplace.

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