How to protect poultry processing workers from COVID-19

Poultry processors must ensure that they have the correct infrastructure in place for worker safety and the right management techniques to reassure staff if COVID-19 is not to threaten output.

Aerosols can be problematic in some sections of the poultry processing plant and workers must be protected. Eduardo Cervantes López
Aerosols can be problematic in some sections of the poultry processing plant and workers must be protected. Eduardo Cervantes LĂłpez

Simple modifications to poultry processing plant infrastructure and worker behavior, along with empathetic staff management techniques, can help to protect workers from COVID-19 infection and keep output at the highest level possible.

Processing plant employees must feel safe in their workplace. Plant managers must protect not only their workers’ physical health but also their emotional and mental wellbeing if plants are to function properly.

While different areas of the processing plant present different levels of risk. Understanding how the virus spreads and making changes accordingly can go a long way in reducing infection risk.

Small spaces, for example, stairwells, small offices and infirmaries, present the greatest risk, whereas more open areas, such as rest areas and passageways are less problematic.

It is worth remembering that coughing can release 3,000 saliva droplets at a speed of over 80 km/hour (49.7 mph). While most are large and will fall to the floor, some are smaller and will dissipate in the air. Sneezing presents a greater risk. A sneeze can expel 30,000 saliva droplets. They are smaller than those of a cough and travel at a speed of 320 km/hour (199 mph), meaning that they can spread further in the environment.

While symptomatic workers pose the greatest threat to their colleagues, the issue of asymptomatic workers also needs to be considered. COVID-19 tends to accumulate in the tissues of the lower lung, and it is the force of a cough or a sneeze that liberates them into the atmosphere.

Should an asymptomatic person be breathing normally and not involved in strenuous activities, little risk is presented to colleagues as minimal amounts of the virus will be exhaled. If speaking, however, the amount of water droplets increases, hence the importance of using protective masks and eye coverings.

Taking the above into account, changes should be made in several areas of the processing plant and reflect the specific conditions found in those areas. 

Hanging area

In the area where birds are hung onto the overhead conveyors, the air should be regularly changed to regulate the temperature and humidity. This will help prevent workers from tiring and breathing more deeply.

To guarantee social distancing in this area, transparent plastic barriers, high enough to stop workers coming into physical contact with each other, should also in installed.

Slaughter and bleed tunnel

This is a physically isolated area. However, should more than one person be stationed after the killer, transparent separators will also need to be installed. The slaughter and bleed tunnel area tend to be very hot and humid. Efficiently changing the air to reduce temperature and humidity levels will also benefit those working in this area.

Scalding and plucking

This is the area with the highest temperature and humidity levels, and where many elements contribute to raising infection risk levels.

These include the heat escapes at the entrance and exit of the scalders, the sprinklers used to aid feather removal and the external carcass washing, along with the heat lost when moving from the scalding to the plucking equipment.

All of the above can contribute to aerosols, meaning that particular care needs to be taken of workers in this area. To minimize risk, the air in this area must be continuously filtered and replaced.

There are also high levels of humidity where evisceration takes place, and the sprinklers used in these areas also result in aerosols. While the temperature may be more comfortable, there still needs to be an efficient air renewal system. Maintaining comfortable environmental conditions for workers helps to protect them from COVID-19 infections as the virus’s survival becomes more challenging.

Air Filtration Poultry Processing Plant

Keeping the air in the plant clean and cool will not only help to remove any virus particles in the air but will provide comfortable working conditions for workers, meaning that they will tire less easily. Eduardo Cervantes LĂłpez

Cooling area

For biosecurity and hygiene reasons, this a closed area that is considered clean. However, the machines used to cool carcasses use cold water at various temperatures and this can lead to ceiling condensation.

These droplets can fall back onto the equipment below, raising the risk of carcass and giblet contamination. It should be remembered that because this is an area of high humidity virus survival is more likely here.

To help reduce risk, chillers need to be protected from this condensation and the air filtration system must be continuously monitored to ensure that it is fully removing aerosols.

Packing, cut up and deboning

These areas are colder to help preserve the chicken carcasses; however, aerosols also occur in this area and so ensuring that air filters are working properly to remove them is essential.

This is an area with a lot of workers that should be separated by transparent barriers.

It is worth remembering that the coronavirus can spread further when the lungs are exerted. In some plants, music is played to help the time pass. However, should a worker need to alert a supervisor to a problem, where music is played it may become necessary to shout. To avoid this, a system of colored alert lights can be installed to attract the supervisor’s attention and communicate the degree of severity an issue may have. For similar reasons, singing should be discouraged.

lights-on-machine

Any activity that results in increased expulsion of air from the lungs can result in virus spread. To reduce the need for employees to shout, a system of colored lights can be used to indicate that problems are occurring. Hasenonkel | Bigstock.com

Ancillary activities

Notices should be placed above washroom sinks, detailing the proper procedures that need to be followed to prevent virus transmission. Electronic displays could also be used.

Where cafeterias are concerned, transparent dividers extending to a height of 20 centimeters above the head of a tall person should be installed and run the length of the entire table.

Rest areas should be spacious and well ventilated and, where circumstances permit, workers should be encouraged to take their breaks outdoors to further minimize virus spread.

Traveling to work and going home may also pose a significant risk to workers if they have to rely on public transport. Wherever possible, traveling workers should have as little contact with others as possible. Traveling by public transport may not only put workers’ physical health at risk but also increase their stress levels and they should be encouraged to consider alternatives.

Good leadership

In addition to physical changes to the infrastructure of the processing plant, plant managers need to demonstrate an understanding of the mental and emotional needs of their workers. Without addressing concerns for their health, workers will not perform to the best of their abilities.

Managers need to show empathy, resilience, and confidence, and they must communicate effectively. Showing these qualities will help to elicit loyalty from staff, confident that their situation is understood and that they are being protected. If they do not feel safe at work, plant output will suffer.

                                                                                                                                           

 

Poultry processing plant biosecurity, cutting COVID risks

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