How can farms prepare for Covid pre-harvest?Industry Best Practice
Growers outside of previous virus hotspots who haven’t experienced the full impacts of Covid-19 outbreaks on their workforce may be concerned about how harvest labour can be managed with Omicron.
The situation with Omicron is very different to previous outbreaks, demanding new strategies for mitigating risk and maintaining staff safety and labour security.
It’s important that any plans be made in accordance with the current rules and public health advice for your state – these links can be found below.
Remember that this information can change regularly.
While Plunkett Orchards was able to manage the Delta outbreak with a rigorous strategy described in an earlier article, the situation with Omicron presents new challenges that many farms will need to adapt to for the coming harvest.
We asked Sally Plunkett about what the new ‘CovidSafe’ might look like.
Q: What is different with your approach to Omicron as opposed to Delta?
“We’re much more reactive at the moment, and it’s very difficult to be proactive without a steady supply of RATs.
We’ve prioritised rapid testing for high-risk situations, like shared on-site living.
We’d be using RATs very frequently if we had them. We can only react to symptomatic cases now. When someone is symptomatic and they can’t get tested, we ask them to isolate for seven days. If they’re still symptomatic, they have to stay home.
We’d be acting much faster and with clearer information if we had more RATs and results. Hopefully growers in states like WA will have a RAT supply by the time they have to deal with Omicron.”
Q: Do you still give regular updates to your staff and provide translated information?
“Omicron has spread so widely in the community now that the updates we used to provide staff on exposure sites or contact tracing has become less useful. We’ll text staff to remind them to book their boosters, and we generally reiterate the importance of distancing and hygiene measures, including wearing masks at all times.
Because the RAT instructions are in English, we’ve had to step in and help some people understand how to use it properly so we can get accurate results.”
Q: Are ‘bubbles’ still effective?
“Less effective for preventing infection contact than with Delta, mainly because Omicron is so widespread in the community, and we can’t use RATs as often as we would like.
We still try to keep people in work teams, and we have different ‘travel bubbles’ for people who live on-site or off-site and try to keep people as separate as possible, to minimise the potential spread.”
Q: What else is different between earlier waves and Omicron?
“Now that people are double vaxxed, they’re getting much milder symptoms. Some of that fear dissipating is actually helpful. It gets much easier to manage the situation and get information across when the fear factor within the staff comes down.”
What can you do now?
- Help staff understand by providing the information they need on Covid-19, including symptoms, handwashing and hygiene practices, mask-wearing, and how to use Rapid Antigen Tests correctly. If necessary, provide translations of these materials.
- If you haven’t already, start planning ‘bubbles’ and how your workforce can maintain social distance, and who will be responsible for managing this.
- Consider providing separate hand-washing facilities, transport, toilets, break rooms and other communal spaces to keep your team ‘bubbles’ separate as much as possible.
- Remind your vaccinated staff about the need for boosters and where they can obtain these locally.
- Stay updated with the Covid guidance for your state, including contact tracing, QR codes, and any industry exemptions from mandatory isolation.
Qld helpline: 134 COVID (13 42 68)
Queensland Government Covid-19 page, including important updates, exemption applications, testing locations, translated resources and information for businesses and industry
WorkSafe Qld resources
Vic helpline: 1800 675 398
Coronavirus Victoria, for general guidance, updates, vaccination and testing sites
Business Victoria Covid-19 resources, including translated information and updated industry guidance
WorkSafe Vic resources, including specific industry information
New South Wales
NSW Government Covid-19 page, including rules and restrictions, registering positive RAT results, testing locations and guidance for businesses.
Safe Work NSW resources
WA helpline: 13COVID (13 26843)
WA Gov Covid-19 page, including latest updates, restrictions, vaccination, translated advice, safety plans and information for businesses
Tas Public Health Hotline: 1800 671 738
Tas Gov Covid-19 page, including testing and vaccination information and translated resources
WorkSafe Tas resources
Fruit Growers Tasmania has additional guidance around exemptions for agricultural workers
SA helpline: 1800 253 787
SA Gov Covid-19 page, including latest updates, restrictions, vaccination information and guidance for businesses
SafeWork SA resources
National Coronavirus Helpline 1800 020 080
Safe Work Australia provides guidance and resources for general use
If you still have questions, APAL is keen to connect growers with timely, up-to-date resources to help them plan for a safe harvest. Please send us an email with your question: [email protected]