Oregon OSHA Consultation: Responding to COVID-19 in Food Processing Facilities

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In April 2020, multiple agencies in Oregon formed a task force to address the growing COVID-19 pandemic. The task force, assembled at the request of the Governor, was charged with developing a rapid response for COVID-19 outbreaks in food processing facilities to protect and preserve the continuity of the food supply in the state. Participating agencies included the Oregon Health Authority (OHA), Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA), Oregon Department of Justice (DOJ), local public health agencies, Oregon OSHA, and Oregon OSHA Consultation.

Throughout the month of May, the task force met to develop a framework and supporting guidance documents establishing each agency’s role in these efforts. The agency representatives collaborated with industry in developing the guidance, relying on good-faith efforts and open communication between employers and state agencies. The outcome of these meetings was a team-based site visit framework known as Interagency Facility Support Teams (IFST) that outlined how the task force would respond to a food processor experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak.

The task force also developed a guidance document titled the “Playbook for Joint Timely Response Protocol for COVID-19 Outbreak in Food Processing Establishments,” which was finalized in June 2020. The task force developed an additional document titled the “Food Processing Response Toolkit” to guide and standardize how site visits were conducted.

Under the IFST framework, a response is initiated when a local public health authority identifies a COVID-19 case. The local public health authority then performs contact tracing to identify who employed the person that tested positive. Local public health authorities then contact OHA, which contacts ODA to advise them of an outbreak at a food processing facility. ODA then notifies Oregon OSHA Consultation, and then contacts the facility to offer a site visit to assist the employer in complying with applicable recommendations and requirements.

Elements of COVID-19 safety that were addressed during these site visits included worker safety (OSHA), food safety (ODA), and community spread/safety (OHA). The role of Oregon OSHA Consultation staff was advisory in nature and specifically addressed issues related to sanitation, social distancing, personal protective equipment use, use of face coverings, ventilation, and training and supervision.

The first IFST site visit occurred on June 9, 2020. The number of visits increased quickly over the ensuing months, with IFST consultations totaling 146 from program inception to the end of calendar year 2020.  Employers in the food processing industry who accepted an IFST visit included grocery stores, farms, processors, food warehouses and distributors, and retail food establishments.

As a result of their participation on the IFST group, Oregon OSHA Consultation helped inform employers and helped minimize the workplace spread of COVID-19 at food processing facilities in Oregon. Their work also helped employers comply with the state’s COVID-19 regulations. Of employers who requested IFST visits, zero were cited by enforcement agencies for alleged violations of the state’s COVID-19 regulations.

The OSHA On-Site Consultation Program offers no-cost and confidential occupational safety and health services to small and medium-sized businesses in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and several U.S. territories, with priority given to high hazard worksites. Consultants from state agencies or universities work with employers to identify workplace hazards and how to fix them, provide advice for compliance with OSHA standards, train and educate workers, and assist in establishing and improving safety and health programs. On-Site Consultation services are separate from OSHA enforcement efforts and do not result in penalties or citations. To locate the OSHA On-Site Consultation program nearest you, call 800-321-OSHA (6742) or visithttps://www.osha.gov/Consultation.