Staying safe in the orchard and packshed


This version: this page was prepared on 9 April 2020.

Last updated: 24 August 2020

Avocados Australia and Horticulture Innovation Australia Limited (Hort Innovation) makes no representations and expressly disclaims all warranties (to the extent permitted by law) about the accuracy, completeness, or currency of the information included in this article, prepared as part of project AV18003.

Reliance on any information provided by Avocados Australia and Hort Innovation is entirely at your own risk. Avocados Australia and Hort Innovation are not responsible for, and will not be liable for, any loss, damage, claim, expense, cost (including legal costs) or other liability arising in any way, including from any Avocados Australia, Hort Innovation or other person’s negligence or otherwise from your use or non-use of the information in this article, or from reliance on information contained in the material or that Avocados Australia and Hort Innovation provides to you by any other means.

We encourage you to seek advice from experts in the field and carefully read the requirements for your state and federal authorities.

General tips Assess the market Additional staff management & sourcing
WHS Industrial relations Transporting produce
Audits Resources Back to the COVID-19 resources page

 

This article has been provided as information. In all cases you should refer to the relevant national and state departments and authorities.

General tips

All businesses must follow advice from the Department of Health and the relevant state and territory governments. They must:

  • maintain a minimum distance of 1.5m between people
  • provide hand hygiene products and suitable rubbish bins
  • wash hands regularly for at least 20 seconds
  • frequently clean, and dispose of waste
  • limit the amount of people for essential indoor or outdoor gatherings[1].

Additional steps you may want to implement include:

  • temperature checking staff before the start of each shift
  • request staff get a flu shot (it won’t protect from COVID-19 but may reduce the combined impact of seasonal influenza and COVID-19 on staffing)
  • consider the items on this Safe Work Australia checklist.

Read more on general practices in the National Farmers Federation’s COVID-19 workplace guide, available here.

The food safety advice in the Best Practice Resource is easily transferrable to dealing with the current situation:

  • properly cleaning and sanitising all surfaces and equipment (click here for an environmental cleaning and disinfection factsheet from the Australian Government Department of Health)
  • maintaining a high level of personal hygiene, especially hand-washing (click here for downloadable and printable hygiene posters from Safe Work Australia)
  • identify and assess the risk of hazards that may occur during land preparation, growing, harvesting and packing of fresh produce
  • prevent or minimise the risk of hazards occurring
  • prepare produce to customer specifications
  • manage staff and documentation
  • review compliance[2].

There has also been a cluster identified at various Australian agribusinesses (a meat processing facility in Victoria, and a strawberry farm in Victoria). You can read more here about some key learnings for the avocado industry.

In the packhouse

Also in the Best Practice Resource WHS section, you can find Avocado Growing and Packing – A Practical Safety Guide (click here, you will need to be logged in to the BPR). For packsheds, it is suggested that you review the risk controls (pages 14-16) but from a COVID-19 perspective:

  • review the design and layout of the various sections and work stations
    • are they 1.5m apart?
    • if they cannot be appropriately spaced can you mitigate the risk with PPE (masks and gloves) or additional infrastructure (eg perspex screens between stations)?
    • can you break the process into zones, and/or organise teams to minimise any chance of cross-contamination?
  • consult with workers to identify potential hazards
  • visitor safety
    • can you stop visitors from entering the packshed and other common areas?
  • safety inductions
    • do these need to happen more frequently?
    • can these happen in smaller groups or outside to allow for appropriate physical distancing?[3]

You may want to review the entire guide with an eye to COVID-19, and update your planning as needed.

Picking

For picking activities, PMA-ANZ has released a factsheet with a checklist for field crews. The list includes:

  • isolate different harvest crews from one another from the time they enter the site in the morning until they leave in the evening
  • organise separate portable toilets for the respective harvest crews (and clean frequently)
  • consider providing pickers with their own tools where possible
  • consider reducing the size of harvest crews in order to enable more space between pickers
  • read the full list here[4] and click here for the PMA-ANZ’s full guide.
Freight

With regard to freight, Safe Work Australia has a factsheet for freight workers (click here). Specifically, freight workers are advised to:

  • limit physical interactions with customers
  • use electronic paperwork where possible
  • ask customers about what COVID-19 measures they have in place
  • stay in their vehicles whenever possible[5].

You may need to adjust some of your transport activities to accommodate these measures.

Assess the market before you pick

The impacts of COVID-19 on the food service sector will impact the overall consumption of avocados. The food service sector has been an important market for Class 1 fruit and bulks and this market has disappeared overnight. In addition to this, exports have effectively stopped (although some opportunities are re-emerging), and this has been an important market for smaller sizes, in particular.

It is essential that everyone who is harvesting or about to start harvesting carefully considers the current market dynamics and the options available to respond to changes.

  • Maintain regular open communication with your supply chain partners before, during and after picking. Packing fruit without a market is extremely risky.
  • Avocado growers have a lot of flexibility around harvest times. The best place to store fruit when markets are full is on the tree.
  • Consider size picking (based on the advice of your wholesaler and supply chain partners).
  • We need to have the most accurate information about supply, particularly at times like this. We have a great advantage in having Infocado to help with planning, but everyone needs to put greater effort into their forecasting so we can plan confidently.

Additional staff management & sourcing

As per the advice from Safe Work Australia, the health of your workers should be checked for key symptoms of COVID-19, such as fever. Direct all workers (whether they are at the workplace or not) to report to you if:

  • they are experiencing any symptoms
  • they have been, or have potentially been, exposed to a person who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 or is suspected to have COVID-19 (even if the person who is suspected to have COVID-19 has not yet been tested), or
  • they have undertaken, or are planning to undertake, any travel.

For your reporting obligations should an employee be confirmed with COVID-19, read this Safe Work Australia factsheet.

Safe Work also says to encourage workers to report if they observe another worker is displaying any symptoms, stop workers from working if they are displaying symptoms or have contracted COVID-19 and a range of other measures[6]. Click here for the factsheet.

Policies and plans

As recommended in the Safe Food Queensland workforce checklist[7], review or develop and implement personnel policies and procedures, including a fit for work policy, a proactive sick leave policy, and a confidential reporting process. Read the full checklist here.

Health plan

A number of states and territories have now developed their own health plan templates and guidelines.

We have collated links to the various plans, templates and requirements (including the associated border closure information) in our Learning from workplace outbreaks (link) article. We are keeping the links as up-to-date as possible in this location only.

**IMPORTANT: please check the requirements for your state or territory as they vary and in some cases, either a specific COVID-19 plan or the inclusion of COVID-19 into your existing WHS plans is MANDATORY. PLEASE CHECK.

Employment documentation

With travel restrictions in several states and territories, it may be prudent to provide new employees/contractors with documentation to prove they a) are an essential ag worker, b) are travelling for work, c) ensure they have documentation to prove their employment and accommodation detail, and d) encourage them to ensure they have documentation (receipts etc) to prove they have self-isolated (if needed) before approaching the border. These templates may be useful to you, to provide to new staff/contractors travelling to your orchard/packhouse:

  • Click here to access the template for the health plan (there is a Word doc link about half way down this page, in the Exemption for FIFO workers section – this template is from the Queensland Government, adjust to fit your situation/state. If your state has its own template, obviously use that instead.)

Other useful templates:

  • travel letter – outlining reason for travel
  • confirmation of employment – confirming new staff are travelling for work with you (there are some indications in Queensland that new staff will need a confirmation of employment letter to cross the border, along with all other required permits and plans)
  • health declaration (statement) and personal disclosure statement (page 15 of the NFF workplace guide)
  • the Queensland Government has developed some template examples (widely applicable, not just for Queensland). Click here to access the latest version, which includes templates for recording pre-employment health screening, daily health screening, report an unwell worker, induction record, supply restocking, cleaning, rosters, and a visitor log.

Please note, these are not official documents, and you and your employee/contractor will still need to fill out the relevant application form for border crossings (visit Farmhub for links), and where necessary lodge a health plan.

Sourcing staff

If you’re a producer, COVID-19 may impact your ability to source harvesting and production workers. Many businesses have relied on a regular pattern of seasonal workers and a stable, permanent workforce for many seasons, but there are other ways to recruit:

Several states also have their own jobs hub (click the state names for the links):

Staff transport

Agriculture Victoria has some advice on staff transport. Click here for the full information (including example scenarios), but in summary:

  • carrying passengers in cars should be avoided, unless they live in the same household.
  • travelling as a passenger in a car, or carrying multiple passengers is strongly discouraged
  • try and maintain at least 1.5 metres between passengers during transportation. If travelling in a minibus or van, passengers should keep at least one vacant seat in all directions
  • wherever possible travel with open windows, and leave windows down between trips
  • regularly clean the inside of vehicles (there is a link to a cleaning factsheet on the Ag Victoria page)
  • do not travel if you are unwell.

Other general tips:

  • two people per car
  • a 20 seat minibus should only have 10 passengers.

The Queensland Trucking Association is working with DRVR to provide free hygiene awareness training (online) for truck and delivery drivers: click here. And Transport Alliance Australia and DRVR are providing free training (online) for passenger transport drivers: click here.

WHS

Please consult your relevant state department as well as Safe Work Australia for the latest workplace health and safety information. PLEASE NOTE: even if your state does not require a specific COVID safety plan, they may require you to update your WHS materials to specifically address COVID safety. Please check carefully.

National
States & Territories
Help accessing PPE
  • Download a list of PPE suppliers collated by the New South Wales Government by clicking here
  • Queensland manufacturers & businesses needing help with supply chain issues relating to personal protective equipment such as face masks, hand sanitisers and other necessities or other critical products to enable their ongoing operation, please click here to fill out the government form.

Industrial Relations

Please consult the relevant national bodies for the latest industrial relations updates.

Transporting produce

Various states have border restrictions (and some states have restrictions between zones within their borders as well). You can find a summary from the National Farmers Federation’s Farmhub, click here.

Audits

We understand growers are concerned around upcoming audits during the COVID-19 pandemic. At this stage, Freshcare and HARPS do not expect there to be any significant disruption to the services they provide.

Freshcare has communicated a Management of Extraordinary Circumstances Policy in relation to COVID-19 directly with all approved certification bodies, providing measures to minimise the potential impact to certified businesses. This policy provides guidance for certification bodies on audit rescheduling, temporary exemption and extension criteria. However, it is up to the certification bodies to decide how to implement the policy.

Businesses due for audit in the coming weeks should:

  • review the Freshcare resources provided below and consider the additional measures required to be adopted by your business
  • only contact your Certification Body if you have restrictions in place that impact access to your sites
  • consider options provided by your Certification Body, and what will work best for maintaining your certification
  • provide any supporting documentation requested by the Certification Body.
Contacts and resources

Resources

Visit our COVID-19 resources page for links to other sources of information and assistance.

In-text references

[1] https://www.agriculture.gov.au/coronavirus/food-agriculture

[2] https://avocado.org.au/best-practice-resource/packhouse/food-safety/

[3] https://avocado.org.au/best-practice-resource/whs/Avocado Growing and Packing – A Practical Safety Guide

[4] https://www.pma.com/-/media/anz/files/covid19–workforce-protection-v1-final.pdf?la=en

[5] https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/doc/road-freight-minimising-risk-exposure-covid-19

[6] https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/system/files/documents/2004/agriculture_minimising_the_risk_of_exposure_to_covid-19_0.pdf

[7] https://www.safefood.qld.gov.au/newsroom/guideline-for-reducing-workforce-impacts-related-to-covid-19/

[8] https://www.safefood.qld.gov.au/newsroom/guideline-for-reducing-workforce-impacts-related-to-covid-19/

Author: Lisa Yorkston
Date Published: 07/04/2020