7 ways farms can build culture of biosecurity compliance

Everyone knows biosecurity is important, but farm workers may not be following the procedures to ensure a biosecure facility. That can be changed by taking a few key steps.

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Matthew Maaskant | freeimages.com
Matthew Maaskant | freeimages.com

Everyone knows biosecurity is important, but farm workers may not be following the procedures to ensure a biosecure facility. That can be changed by taking a few key steps.

As part of the 2018 International Production & Processing Expo (IPPE) in Atlanta, Dr. Manon Racicot, veterinary epidemiologist, biosecurity expert and adjunct professor at the UniversitĂ© de MontrĂ©al, spoke about how farmers can boost their adherence to biosecurity practices and build a culture of compliance. 

Biosecurity compliance research

Given the potential impact of diseases like avian influenza on poultry operations, compliance should be expected to be high. However, that’s not the case.

Racicot shared the results of a study she conducted using hidden cameras in barn entrances at poultry farms in Quebec, Canada. It aimed to evaluate and describe the application of biosecurity measures when entering and exiting poultry barns.

The study showed overall biosecurity compliance was about 34.7 percent. With coverall use ranking highest, at 71 percent, and respect of areas of limitation, at 15 percent. More than 75 percent compliance is considered good, while 75 to 25 percent is intermediate and less than 25 percent is low compliance.

Building a culture of compliance  

Racicot spoke about ways to increase compliance and build a biosecure culture. However, she cautioned that this isn’t a one-time measure.

“Biosecurity compliance is a significant challenge and by implementing a behavior based system we will create a biosecurity culture. But you need to keep in mind that this is a cyclical process, so it’s always a work in progress and we need to repeat and redo again,” Racicot said. “Don’t think that once you have your biosecurity culture it’s going to stay the same, you need to improve it and go back to employees and keep the good behavior.”

1. Set up an environment for success

The physical layout of the barn or workplace entrance should make it hard for people to ignore biosecurity practices. If the division between the clean and dirty area of the workplace is only a line of paint or tape on the ground, it won’t work nearly as well as a physical barrier.

According to Racicot’s research, farm workers are five to nine times more likely to respect the areas of limitation when there is a physical barrier between the clean and dirty areas. This can be something as simple as a bench where workers change their footwear and wash or sanitize their hands before moving between areas.

2. Encourage responsible people to model proper biosecurity procedures

It’s important to both position the most responsible people on the farm to model the desired biosecurity behaviors and to make it known that biosecurity practices are the social norm.

Racicot was involved with a study testing worker’s personality traits and their links to biosecurity practices. It found people with high responsibility, action-oriented, and logical and rational personality traits were most likely to follow biosecurity procedures. She said identifying these kind of people on the farm and making them responsible for encouraging others to follow biosecure practices can help influence others and establish a biosecure culture.

Additionally, requiring a worker’s signature on a written biosecurity agreement or pledge may help to establish biosecure practices as both a cultural norm and professional expectation in the workplace.

3. Present evidence of the importance of biosecurity

Racicot said people are more likely to do something when they see evidence of the activity’s benefit. Therefore, if workers are told about the effectiveness of the practices, they are more likely to act in biosecure ways.

On broiler farms, according to scientific literature, there’s a threefold risk in an infection of Campylobacter if there’s no physical barrier between clean and dirty areas in the barn entrance. An outbreak of the same disease is five times less likely when workers are washing their hands, using dedicated farm boots and the footbath. On a layer farm, there’s seven times greater risk for avian influenza when not taking complete hygiene steps on shoes, clothes and hands.

Therefore, workers should see examples of the benefits of compliance – and risks of noncompliance – as part of their training.

4. Ensure biosecurity measures are followed even on short visits

Biosecure culture requires doing the right things all the time, no matter how long or short the visit. According to her research, people are the least likely to change their boots, for example, when entering the house if the visit is going to be short. Compliance was 12 percent for five to 17 minutes spent in the barn versus 33 percent for 17 to 54 minutes and 35 percent for more 54 minutes or longer.

5. Follow biosecurity practices regardless of rank or relationship

Biosecure culture requires everyone to comply regardless of status. But, according to her findings, people are less likely to comply with biosecure practices when they are a member of the family. Family is no less likely to introduce disease into the poultry house than anyone else. This is especially important on farms where the family is heavily involved with caring for the animals.

6. Show examples of correct and incorrect behavior

As part of their training, employees should be shown examples of acceptable and unacceptable behavior. Racicot said seeing these examples help employees adhere to biosecurity standards.

For example, she said she’s working on a project developing training tools showing both why and how to properly enter poultry barns. The training tool includes videos of mistakes – like using plastic boot covers pulled out of the garbage – and quizzes workers on biosecurity mistakes and protocols.

7. Measure biosecurity compliance

After setting a standard for biosecurity and training employees on the expectations, the final step is to actually monitor and measure compliance. Racicot said providing critical feedback, and improving on existing practices, requires accurate measurement of compliance.

One way to measure compliance is using questionnaires, however, they are subjective and Racicot said there’s a low correlation between what’s observed and what’s reported. A better way to get an exact picture is using camera observation at entrances. Racicot said the visible presence of a camera alone will increase compliance.

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