There have been more Covid-19 outbreaks linked with food manufacturing plants than in hospitality settings in the UK, with businesses affected including some of the industry’s biggest players. Similar outbreaks have also taken hold in plants across Germany, France, Spain and the US.
In fact, the number of cases across the UK food production sector is thought to be up to 30 times higher than what has actually been reported. All of which points to these plants as being high-risk breeding grounds for the spread of Coronavirus.
So, as the country rides out a second wave of the virus and food manufacturing sites remain open and operating, how can a business mitigate its risk, and keep its facilities and its people safe?
A potential factor in these environments is proximity. When you have people standing right next to each other working heavily and breathing heavily, then the risk of the virus spreading from just one infected individual to many that are in close proximity increases.
Add to this situation a degree of noise and the risk increases again. Noisy machinery requires people to speak more loudly, or even shout, which can increase the spread of infected droplets. This is why adhering to government guidance around social distancing is vital.
The environment itself could also be a factor. According to Lawrence Young, Professor of Molecular Oncology at the University of Warwick virus-containing droplets from infected individuals are more likely to spread, settle and stay viable in food plants: “Factories and, in particular, indoor areas which are cold and damp, are perfect environments for coronavirus to linger and spread.” This is why ensuring that your people are trained in good hygiene practices and reviewing and increasing your cleaning regimes forms part is an essential.
To try and mitigate the potential additional Covid-19 risks that these environments pose, a business’ first port of call has to be consulting guidance issued by the FSA and the government on working safely in food manufacturing.
The guidance advocates for putting your risk assessment at the heart of your COVID-19 safety measures, using it to inform your decisions and the control measures put in place. Consideration must also be given to how these measures impact existing food safety management systems.
Staff have to be fit for work at all times and must not be suffering from, or carrying, an illness or disease that could cause a problem with food safety. During COVID-19, staff who are displaying symptoms of the disease have to follow the latest government guidance. Public Health England and their counterparts in the devolved nations have published guidance showing the return to work process for a COVID-19 symptomatic worker following testing. Ensuring your staff understand your Fitness to Work policy and are aware of any updates made to it, in relation to COVID-19, will also be key.
Also, where outbreaks occur, working closely with NHS Test and Trace and Public Health England, and their counterparts in the devolved nations, will ensure appropriate testing and tracing of contacts, both within and outside of the workplace.
With so much to consider and with government and regulator guidance changing on what can sometimes seem like a daily basis, manufacturers should also consider bringing in additional support via external expertise and embracing time-saving technology.
External experts can help with interpreting any guidance in relation to your individual business and help your business to stay abreast of any changes. The support of consultants, such as Shield Safety Group will not only make sure that your business is compliant, but will also help you to put the best possible risk assessments in place for when local enforcement come calling.
Embracing risk management technology will help you to streamline your processes, reduce audit trail paperwork, house all your key information in one place, allow management teams to see if checks are being actioned and make it quicker and easier to share documentation with local enforcement and regulators.
Following government guidance can help reduce the spread of coronavirus and reduce the likelihood of plants having to close due to an outbreak. And, whilst there’s a lot to consider by undertaking the guidance, getting the best advice, taking the right steps and putting the correct measures in place, you can safeguard your business, ensuring it stays compliant and ultimately continues to trade.
For more information and advice on COVID-19 safety in a food manufacturing setting visit safetotrade.org.uk