Agritourism operations need to go above and beyond to plan for safe operations of their farms during the COVID-19 pandemic. The public is looking forward to participating in traditional autumn activities, especially when they know health practices are being followed by the venue.
Employees are a critical piece to any business. When key employees are ‘out sick’, the agritourism activities may be affected or not offered at all. Employers will want to safeguard their small staff during the pandemic to ensure they are providing the necessary protection for their staff, as well as their agritourism guests.
Worker safety starts with good workplace practices.
Start with the basics. All staff should practice the CDC guidelines of washing hands, wearing masks, keeping six feet physical distance, and staying home when sick. Additional precautions include:
- Provide alcohol-based hand sanitizer for remote locations.
- Discourage workers from using other workers’ phones, desks, offices, or other work tools and equipment, when possible.
- Use disposable paper towels. There should be no shared towels, including shop rags.
- Discourage the sharing of any food or beverages.
- Establish protocols for sanitizing common gathering places like the shop, lunch areas, and office spaces. Cleaning and disinfecting high touch areas, like door handles, phones, 2-way radios, keyboards, light switches, monitors/touchpads, faucets/sinks, and restroom areas.
- Avoid ride-sharing in company vehicles, when possible.
Schedule employees to work in teams.
Employers should look at the functions of the total operation. Creating workforce teams or ‘pods’ can help ensure an operation minimizes the impacts should a worker become ill or test positive for the coronavirus. Try to schedule these employees to work together without co-mingling the pods. This will reduce the risk of quarantining the entire workforce, in the event, someone within a pod becomes ill or tests positive for the coronavirus.
Levels of risk will differ with different job descriptions. By thinking in advance, it will be possible to make appropriate plans for employee work shifts and have protective mechanisms in place for high exposure areas.
- Group employees according to their contact with the general public, on-site service providers, or other co-workers. Manage employee schedules without overlapping work crews who work in the different areas of the operation. For example, keep the pick-your-own field staff in separate teams from the employees who handle checkout and re-stocking at the store.
- You may also consider grouping employees based on their demographics or their personal environments. Do some of your employees face high exposure risks at home because of a spouse’s work setting? Is it possible to group younger workforces together to minimize exposure to senior workers or workers who are caregivers to elderly or susceptible family members?
Establish an employee health reporting system
Create a plan for how daily health checks and reporting illness will be handled. Discuss these procedures with employees. Workers that are experiencing COVID symptoms may be contagious. Follow your local health department requirements by asking sick employees to stay home or self-quarantine from the rest of the farm workforce.
- Create a health screening assessment questionnaire and have employees take their temperature before reporting to work. Ask employees to stay home if they have any symptoms or temperatures over 100.4⁰F.
- Encourage employees to reduce out-of-state travel, participation in mass-group events (weddings, funerals, graduations, etc.), and practice recommendations from the state for social distancing in their off-work environments.
- Send sick employees to get tested as soon as possible to minimize the ‘wait period’ for test results. Treat employees who are feeling sick or waiting for test results the same, and assume they are positive for coronavirus.
Prepare a business continuity plan.
Have a plan in place to accommodate a reduction in the workforce. If employees are not available to work, identify which activities will be closed or managed differently. When management is not available to work, have a contingency plan for keeping the operation open.
- Are employees cross-trained to do handle additional tasks?
- Are keys available to barns and gates and equipment?
- Do employees have access to all needed information, like passwords to important accounts?
OSU Extension Bulletin Forthcoming
OSU Extension has prepared a guidance bulletin to help farms develop their plans. The guide is based on publications from the state of Ohio, the CDC, and others. The guide is in the final stage of the approval process and will be available in the coming days. This guide can be used to develop opening plans or update existing plans for agritourism operations.
The guidance bulletin will be posted here on the Ohio Ag Manager website. To watch for updates on the guide, we encourage farms to subscribe to our Ohio Ag Manager Blog at http://ohioagmanager.osu.edu/