COVID Rules for Farmworker Housing

January 1, 2024

In the last year, we have seen mandates passed down to protect the safety of agricultural workers. The harshest of these are the rules put in place for farmworker housing. Many farms throughout Washington have houses as well as unit-style housing that they offer as a “benefit” of sorts to their migrant workforce. With the onset of COVID, many farms have had to cut their housing in half to account for social distancing. As the pandemic has progressed, the guidelines have changed. Follow this blog for tips to ensure that your farm is following the most current COVID rules for farmworker housing. 


Developing COVID-19 Policies and Procedures 

It is required that each farm have a written Management Plan in place that follows DOSH Directive 1.7. DOSH also recommends developing flexible, non-punitive sick leave policies so that workers are not incentivized to conceal or not report symptoms. Employers should also group workers into cohorts to limit potential transmission and should maintain cohorts for housing, transportation and work settings. 


The next step you will want to take is to identify your COVID Champion. This may be an HR specialist, a safety specialist, or a manager. This person should be the first point of contact for all things COVID. After you have identified that person, it is important that you give them as much training as possible. The better equipped your COVID Champion is, the quicker your managers and employees will get answers to their questions. Creating this position within your farm can ensure that there is always someone on your farm that has COVID in the front of their mind. 


PRO TIP: The best fit for a COVID Champion is someone who pays attention to details and who can communicate well with your field employees. As always, audio-translated messages on Harvust make communicating with all of your employees a breeze.


Farmworker Education 

Now that we have identified our COVID Champion, it is time to look at the training topics that should be covered with all new and returning farmworkers. In order to reduce the transmission of COVID-19, farms should provide training to all employees on the following topics: 


1. COVID-19 signs, symptoms, risk factors, and when employees should seek medical help.

2. How COVID-19 is spread.

3. How an infected person can spread COVID-19 to others even when they are not sick.

4. The employer’s plan for screening workers for COVID-19. Encourage employees to report symptoms as soon as they develop.

5. Employer’s sick leave policies. 

6. How employees can protect themselves and prevent the spread of COVID-19 at the worksite, including any new equipment, procedures, or policies created to limit the spread of COVID-19 at the worksite.

7. Proper hand hygiene in the worksite and at home: 

    a. When employees arrive and before they start their shift.

    b. Before and after eating or using the toilet. 

    c. After close interaction with other persons. 

    d. After contacting shared surfaces or tools.

    e. Before and after wearing a mask or gloves. 

    f. After blowing their nose, coughing or sneezing.

8. Explain that alcohol-based hand sanitizer can be used if a sink or hand-washing station is not immediately available. Alcohol-based hand sanitizer is as effective as washing hands with soap and water unless hands are visibly soiled.

9. The importance of physical distancing from others at work and at home.

10. Provide signage and other visual markers to remind workers of key policies and procedures. The Pacific Northwest Agricultural Safety and Health Center produces resources that employers may find helpful, though these materials have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Department of Health. These resources are available at: https://deohs.washington.edu/pnash/blog/responding-COVID-19

PRO TIP: Identify topics that you can train on all at one time. Masks, handwashing, and COVID-19 symptoms can be covered as a review for returning employees. Harvust has all of these topics and more, ready to send in your employee’s preferred language and straight to their own device. 


Temporary Worker Housing Requirements

According to the DOSH directive, each farm with temporary worker housing must ensure the following conditions:


Sleeping arrangements

Beds are spaced at least six feet apart between frames in all directions. They must also be arranged so that occupants sleep head to toe OR beds are separated personal articles. Ensure that all or part of the space is enclosed and lockable. Instruct occupants to maintain physical distancing and wear face coverings whenever possible in common areas. 


Cohorts

Members of each cohort group should stay together and be separate from other groups, occupants, or workers, including during transportation and work. Employers must follow the group shelter requirements if the operator is not the employer. Encourage each group shelter to designate one or two occupants to run errands if items cannot be provided by the operator. These designated occupants can be the main contact for procuring groceries or other items to help limit public contact and potential disease transmission. Quarantine or test all members of a group shelter (as directed by the local health agency) if a member of the group develops COVID-19 symptoms.


See https://www.lni.wa.gov/forms-publications/F414-170-000.pdf for more information.


Temporary worker housing is meant to be a benefit we give to our migrant workforce. Without them, many farms would struggle to get the fruit off the trees. Now more than ever, it is important for each farm to be diligently invested in its housing program. The best thing you can do for your employees is give them the tools and knowledge they need to be successful. By following the steps in this blog, your temporary housing will be up and running on its own! 


Resources

Reach a DOSH consultant near you: 1-800-547-8367 or email DOSHConsultation@Lni.wa.gov for help.


The DOSH coronavirus website includes resources from CDC, OSHA, and the Washington Department of Health.


Washington State Department of Health: 1-800-525-0127

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Author

Becca Groche

Becca is a seasoned HR professional with over six years of experience in agriculture and adjacent industries. Before joining Harvust, she provided her expertise as a frontline HR representative at a large Washington tree fruit company for nearly three years. Becca has lived the life of Harvust's customers and knows exactly what they need. She brings that insight and emotional intelligence to bear supporting and advising Harvust customers everyday.