Farm workers are actively engaged in produce and other fresh commodity harvests  all across the country.  Earlier this week during a press conference, Governor Ron DeSantis pointed out that a significant percentage of the recent rise in COVID19 positive cases in Florida were from farm workers.  Harvesting fresh commodities often requires sizable hand-labor crews that require temporary housing and buses or vans for transportation to and from fields to be harvested. Many of these workers are not fluent in English and may not be getting the training needed to reduce the spread of COVID19.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the U.S. Department of Labor recently published a website to provide guidance for agricultural employers to protect farm workers from the spread of COVID19.  This website provides 15 pages of guidance and recommendations.  The following are excepts from the CDC’s Agriculture Workers and Employers website:

Agriculture work sites, shared worker housing, and shared worker transportation vehicles present unique challenges for preventing and controlling the spread of COVID-19. Consistent application of specific preparation, prevention, and management measures can help reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19.  There is no evidence that livestock, crops, or products that may be handled by workers involved in production agriculture are sources of COVID-19 infection. However, close contact with coworkers may contribute to spreading the virus among workers.

Distinctive factors that affect farm workers’ risk for COVID-19 in production agriculture workplaces include:

  • Distance between workers – farmworkers often have close contact to one another both in the fields and indoors. Workers may also be near one another at other times, such as when clocking in or out, during breaks, when sharing transportation, or in shared housing.
  • Duration of contact – farmworkers often have prolonged close contact with coworkers, both on the work site and during transportation and in some housing. Continued contact with potentially infectious individuals increases the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
  • Type of contact – farmworkers may be exposed to COVID-19 through respiratory droplets in the air—for example, when workers who have the virus cough, sneeze, or talk. Exposure could also occur when workers have contact with contaminated surfaces or objects, such as tools, equipment, tractors, workstations, toilet facilities, or break room tables and then touch their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes. This is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads, but we are still learning more about how this virus spreads.
  • Other factors that may increase risk among some workers include:
    • Sharing transportation such as ride-share vans or shuttle vehicles, car-pools, and public transportation.
    • Living in employer-furnished housing and sharing living quarters, cooking and eating areas, bathrooms, and laundry facilities with fellow workers.
    • Living in crowded and multigenerational housing.
    • Contact within their households/families and with fellow workers in community settings in areas with ongoing community transmission.
    • Mobility of the workforce (i.e., migrant workers) who, in moving from farm to farm, can potentially spread the virus between communities.
    • Poor access to clean water for hygiene purposes throughout the day.

Key Points for Protecting Farm Workers from the spread of COVID19

  • Management in the agriculture industry should conduct work site assessments to identify coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) risks and infection prevention strategies to protect workers.
  • Work site guidance for COVID-19 prevention and control should be taken into consideration in employer-furnished shared worker housing, transportation vehicles and work settings.
  • Prevention practices should follow the hierarchy of controls, which includes using source control and a combination of engineering controls, administrative controls (especially proper sanitation, cleaning, and disinfection), and personal protective equipment.
  • Grouping workers together into cohorts may reduce the spread of COVID-19 transmission in the workplace by minimizing the number of different individuals who come into close contact with each other over the course of a week, and may also reduce the number of workers quarantined because of exposure to the virus.
  • Owners/operators should maximize opportunities to place farmworkers residing together in the same vehicles for transportation and in the same cohorts to limit exposure.
  • Basic information and training about infection prevention should be provided to all farm workers inlanguages they can understand.
  • Agriculture work sites developing plans for continuing operations where COVID-19 is spreading among workers or in the surrounding community should work directly with appropriate state and local public health officials and occupational safety and health professionals.

To aid employers in creating a COVID-19 assessment and control plan, the CDC’s ag worker website also provides guidance on:
  • Screening and monitoring workers
  • Managing sick workers
  • Addressing return to work after worker exposure to COVID-19
  • Engineering controls
  • Cleaning, disinfection, and sanitation
  • Administrative controls
  • Cloth face coverings
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Special considerations for shared housing
  • Special considerations for shared transportation
  • Special considerations for children
  • Regulations & Worker’s Rights

For more details and resources, use the following links:

CDC posters available to download and print in multiple languages