Blue Harvest Fisheries adopted new safeguards to help protect workers from covid-19, including plexiglass enclosures on the processing line in its New Bedford, Mass., plant.
The company said Thursday that no workers have contracted the illness on the job, but two had tested positive for covid-19 over an 11-day period after apparently contracting it outside of work. The company reported those cases to the city Board of Health.
The company says it had already adopted a 25-point protocol for covid-19 “based on emerging best practices and had arranged for an independent company to conduct deep cleaning and disinfecting even before the anticipated closure order arrived.”
After closing at the end of business April 23, Blue Harvest staff working around the clock over the weekend installed three-sided plexiglass separations between workers’ stations on the line, to improve social distancing on the plant floor before operations resumed Monday.
Common surfaces in the plant are cleaned frequently, followed by regular deep cleaning of the entire facility, according to Blue Harvest. All employees are required to wear facemasks and face shields on the production floor.
Employees’ temperatures are checked twice daily, before entering for work in the morning and before leaving at night. Common areas were rearranged to observe proper social distancing measures.
Worker safety has ballooned to a crisis in the meatpacking industry, with producers including Tyson and Smithfield closing plants and facing confrontation with labor unions. Blue Harvest says it is following guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and other federal agencies, and in additional adopted its own 25-point plan. The company also boosted its hourly wages by $1 as hazard pay for the duration of the Massachusetts public health emergency declaration.
“Blue Harvest Fisheries is committed to the safety and well-being of its employees, and to the safety and quality of its seafood products, above all else,” the company said in a prepared statement outlining the measures.
A dedicated covid-19 team meets twice a week to review the latest information, ensure that all safety protocols and best practices are in place, and to update plans as new information becomes available. Those steps include:
Hiring individuals to continuously wipe down all common touch points;
Propping open all non-critical doors so there is less need to touch surfaces;
Installing a covered exterior hand washing sink at plant entrance points with soap, hand sanitizer and paper towel dispensers;
Installing additional hand sanitizer pumps throughout the facility;
Marking the appropriate social distancing lines at the punch clocks, cafeterias and exterior handwashing stations, etc.;
Opening up a second cafeteria along with one-way entrance and exit flows to minimize contact;
Staggering breaks and lunch times to minimize the number of employees in the cafeterias and restrooms at one time and to increase physical space;
Arranging seating in the cafeterias so there is one chair per table;
Taking the temperatures of employees prior to entering the building and again at the end of the day;
Eliminating the food trucks that visit other workplaces and adding an additional vending machine with meal availability;
Requiring masks be worn in all locations and face shields are required on the production floors;
Establishing a procedure for wiping down/sanitizing hand jacks and fork trucks;
Upgrading production lines with 3-sided plexiglass partitions to create separation between workers and prevent droplet migration;
Posting signage throughout the plant in multiple languages;
Fogging and deep cleaning the building with anti-viral cleaners, in addition to the regular daily sanitation.
The company has also provided each employee with outside-of-the-workplace safety guidance, based on CDC guidelines, to help keep themselves and their families safe.
Associate Editor Kirk Moore was a reporter for the Asbury Park Press for more than 30 years and a 25-year field editor for National Fisherman before joining our Commercial Marine editorial staff in 2015. He wrote several award-winning stories on marine, environmental, coastal and military issues that helped drive federal and state government policy changes. Moore was awarded the Online News Association 2011 Knight Award for Public Service for the “Barnegat Bay Under Stress,” 2010 series that led to the New Jersey state government’s restoration plan. He lives in West Creek, N.J.