Staying safe in the orchard and packshed
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This version: this page was prepared on 9 April 2020.
Last updated: 14 December 2021 (most recent updates – relate to vaccinations)
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.
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.
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 and this Safe Work Australia factsheet.
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 transferable 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.
In 2020, we also prepared some key learnings from early agribusiness workplace outbreaks. 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?
You may want to review the entire guide with an eye to COVID-19, and update your planning as needed.
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 and click here for the PMA-ANZ’s full guide.
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.
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 can disappear overnight when lockdowns occur. In addition to this, exports have been impacted (although some opportunities are re-emerging, especially as exporters start to use sea freight options); export 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. Click here for the factsheet.
Policies and plans
As recommended in the Safe Food Queensland workforce checklist, 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
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 the BPR here. 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.
Workplace QR code check-ins
With the introduction of the Delta variant to Australia (first half of 2021) and the increasing use of QR codes and state-specific check-in apps, various state governments have changed their check-in requirements. Please use the links to check for any updates to this information (current as at 7 July 2021). Please note, the rules are usually different for farms vs farm-based tourism or farm stores (including “pick your own” operations). Also, take into consideration if a check-in process is (or should be) part of our farm or packhouse COVIDsafe plan, regardless of QR code use requirements.
- Western Australia – accommodation businesses have to maintain a contact register, but it doesn’t have to be the SafeWA app (and associated QR code). Farms and packhouses aren’t on the list (Contact Register Directions No. 2 here).
- Queensland – accommodation venues are on schedule 1 (here) and have to use the check-in app and QR codes (and seasonal worker accommodation must also comply with the latest Seasonal Workers Health Management and International Quarantine Plans Direction No.2 here).
- New South Wales – the requirement for the use of QR codes in NSW businesses has now been clarified, thanks to NSW DPI. From 12 July 2021, a range of workplaces have to use the state’s QR code system. Packsheds have to use the Service NSW QR code, but farms/orchards do not (but it is strongly encouraged). Click here to read the NSW DPI notice with more detail, and you can register to receive your unique QR code here.
- Victoria – In Victoria, farms are exempt from the need to have a QR code (for workers and people attending for work-related purposes), but it is encouraged, as attendance does need to be recorded in some manner. There is currently some confusion about whether non-public facing businesses (eg warehousing) need to have the QR code system in place. If in doubt, err on the side of caution.
- Tasmania – from 31 July 2021, most accommodation venues need to use a state-generated QR code or paper-based system, but it appears orchards are not on the current list of businesses. As at 7 July, the Tasmanian Government said they were still finalising the list, best to check.
- South Australia – a unique QR code for the state’s check-in app is provided as part of a SA COVID Safe Plan. As agricultural businesses don’t need a plan (but they are recommended) you may not have a QR code. However, contact tracing records are advisable and the SA government has a PDF template here.
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.
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:
- check out the job providers listed in the Avocado Directory
- use the Harvest Trail online facility at https://jobsearch.gov.au/harvest
- lodge vacancies directly onto jobsearch.gov.au or register your business on the Jobactive website to post positions for free, click here 
Several states also have their own jobs hub, and we have curated more information in the BPR here.
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.
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.
States & Territories
- New South Wales – SafeWork NSW
- Northern Territory – NT WorkSafe
- Queensland – WorkCover Queensland
- Also for Queensland, Business Queensland has information here on protecting your workforce. This information may be generally applicable across the country.
- Another one from Queensland but please check with your jurisdiction as well. In Queensland, if you are employing staff from the Pacific Islands, you need to provide induction and training in their first language. If you only provide this in English and they don’t understand, you are not meeting your obligations under WHS laws. Read more.
- South Australia – SafeWork SA
- Tasmania – WorkSafe Tasmania
- Victoria – Work Safe Victoria
- Western Australia – WorkSafe
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.
It is currently regarded as best practice for employers to support their staff in helping them to become vaccinated. This is the recommendation made by the Queensland Department of Health and other Government Health agencies. As an employer, it’s a good idea to encourage employees to get vaccinated for COVID-19, for the health of your workplace.
Under occupational health and safety laws, employers have a duty to do whatever is reasonably practicable to ensure workplace safety. In some circumstances, this may justify an employer requiring staff to be vaccinated, even where there is no specific requirement in any legislation or a government order (Source: justiceconnect.org.au).
- Click here to view Safe Work Australia information about your obligations as an employer under the model WHS laws and how these relate to COVID-19 vaccines. Employers have a duty under the model Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws to eliminate, or if that is not reasonably practicable, minimise the risks of COVID-19 in the workplace so far as is reasonably practicable. Employers also have a duty to consult workers regarding COVID-19 risks and how these risks are to be managed. This includes the introduction of workplace policies relating to vaccination. This information will assist you to assess whether a COVID-19 vaccine is a reasonably practicable control measure to manage the risks of COVID-19 in your workplace.
- Click here to find out some positive steps you can take to encourage employees to get COVID-19 vaccinated (Source: Business Australia).
- Click here to access QDAF’s Information Hub for COVID-19 Vaccine for Agribusiness guidelines.
- Click here for the status of the Australian Government’s vaccine rollout.
- Click here to access the Australian Government’s online service for getting proof of your COVID-19 vaccinations.
Please consult the relevant national bodies for the latest industrial relations updates.
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.
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
- Click here for Certification Body contact details
- Click here for the Freshcare’s COVID-19 industry advice
- Click here for Freschcare’s incident management insert
- Click here for Freshcare’s F10 food safety instructions insert – health declaration (COVID-19)
- Fair Farms (PDF link)
Visit our COVID-19 resources page for links to other sources of information and assistance.
 https://avocado.org.au/best-practice-resource/whs/ – Avocado Growing and Packing – A Practical Safety Guide
Date Published: 07/04/2020