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Agricultural News

Five Steps to Formulate Workforce Contingency Plans in the COVID-19 Setting

Thu, 16 Apr 2020 09:05:43 CDT

Five Steps to Formulate Workforce Contingency Plans in the COVID-19 Setting Melissa O'Rourke, Extension farm and agribusiness management specialist has written the following article for the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach about contingency plans in the COVID-19 Setting.

As the coronavirus spreads to rural America, farms as well as other agricultural and rural employers must establish labor supply contingency plans.

Rural businesses across the country have a wide range of labor needs. Such businesses may include farms, ag product and service providers, and other rural retail businesses. On many farms, all labor is performed by family members, while others have limited non-family employees, perhaps on a seasonal basis during planting and harvest operations.

Livestock farm operations - including dairy, beef, swine, goats, sheep, poultry or other specialty livestock - tend to have more significant year-round labor requirements. Animals must be fed, watered, and otherwise cared-for whether or not those responsible for these duties become sick or must be quarantined. All farms and rural businesses must formulate or review labor contingency plans.

Step ONE--Protect the Current Workforce

Helpful resources exist with recommendations on employee protection to limit the spread of coronavirus on the workplace. Key advice includes:

Social distancing: Prevent coronavirus spread by maintaining a minimum six-foot distance between and among workers whenever possible. Direct workers to maintain social distancing when away from the farm by avoiding contact with others beyond their immediate household. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides information on social distancing and how it works.

Handwashing, sanitizers and sanitation: Now more than ever, biosecurity on the farm is of the utmost importance. Direct workers to wash hands frequently with soap and hot water, especially after touching high contact surfaces where the virus may live for extended hours or days. The CDC provides resources, instructions and videos on correct handwashing procedures. Provide hand sanitizers for use when hand washing is not immediately available. Regularly sanitize surfaces that are touched by others. The CDC provides a fact sheet on handwashing and hand sanitizer, describing proper use of each.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): To the extent possible, provide appropriate PPEs which may include masks, disposable gloves or face shields. Garments may be appropriate in some environments. The CDC now encourages the use of cloth masks, and provides instructions on how to make and use such masks.

Direct sick employees to stay home: Educate current employees that if they have symptoms (such as fever, cough, or shortness of breath) they should notify a supervisor and stay home. The CDC provides guidelines for sick employees who should not return to work until they have met appropriate criteria in consultation with healthcare providers. Similarly, workers who feel well but have a sick household member with COVID-19 should notify their supervisor.

Step TWO--Prepare the Current Workforce--Cross Training and SOP's

Cross-training and job rotation is always a good policy under what may now be described as "normal" conditions. This strategy applies even where the entire workforce is family-based and in fact, may be even more essential in that situation. As COVID-19 moves into rural America, it is vital that workers are cross-trained and comprehend the essential duties of all positions on the farm.

Step THREE--Design or Update the Workforce Contingency Plans

Whatever the regular workforce consists of on the farm, now is the time to assume that Plan A may collapse in the event of COVID-19 impacts. Devise Plan B as the back-up plan to fill labor needs; and be ready with a Plan C on deck as well. Most dairies have fill-in workers who provide substitute labor on weekends or an as-needed basis, so those workers are already trained. All farms (livestock, crop, specialty) and other agricultural businesses should have similar plans in the COVID-19 environment. Plans already in existence should be reviewed and updated.

Step FOUR--Recruit and train new contingency workers

Agricultural employers have long faced a worker shortage, consistently confronting a challenge to locate farm workers. In the COVID-19 environment, farms and rural businesses may have access to labor that is not usually available. College and high school students are likely at home due to the pandemic, and available for part-time or occasional employment. As summer approaches, some of these same students may be unable to access traditional summer employment opportunities, and could be available for work on the farm. Many individuals across the country have been laid off from their usual occupations and are now available for employment in the ag sector.

Step FIVE--Prepare to function with a reduced workforce

Be ready for the possibility that the farm or ag business may be unable to recruit and train replacement workers. Anticipate this scenario by prioritizing the most essential tasks and critical workers. Determine which tasks have the highest priority for maintaining the current schedule and frequency. Identify other tasks that could be considered for a reduced schedule. Formulate guidance for the situation where an owner, manager or other key leader becomes ill or needs to self-quarantine

More tips and resources are offered in the complete article. You can read it HERE.



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