60% of Covid-19 positive meat plant staff ‘recovered and returned’ to work – MII

An estimated 60% of meat plant employees, who tested positive for Covid-19, have recovered and have returned to work, Meat Industry Ireland (MII) has said.

In a lengthy statement this evening, Tuesday May 19, the meat processing sector representative body has responded to an update from the Health Service Executive (HSE) that 828 employees of the meat processing sector have tested positive for the virus over the course of the last two months.

However, figures compiled by MII show that, to date, 496 workers who tested positive have now gone through the appropriate period of self-isolation, have recovered from the illness and are back at work.

“It is disappointing that despite the range of measures put in place to mitigate the spread of Covid-19, the number of cases reported by the HSE has continued to rise.

While the sector has faced challenges, MII data shows that almost 60% of affected workers have already recovered, as per the HSE isolation protocols, and others who were detected more recently continue to complete their self-isolation periods and recovery.

From the beginning, MII says its members “acted promptly” to address the threat posed by Covid-19; and that by mid-March all MII members had developed protocols and implemented “a wide range” of protective measures to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

The association says these steps were completed “well in advance” of the Government’s introduction of widespread emergency lock-down measures to protect the country from the threat of the virus on March 27 last.

It is stated that many sites operated by MII members “remain unaffected”; while others have experienced “very few” positive cases.

Also Read: Meat plants ‘could be directed to close’ in cases of ‘substantial threat’ – HSE

“Where positive cases have increased and clusters evolved, companies have worked closely and openly with the HSE officials at local level and where deemed necessary by the HSE, conducted full screening tests.

“All close contacts of positive Covid-19 cases must self-isolate until their quarantine period elapses. Return to work protocols for positive cases and close contacts are guided by HSE advice in all instances.

“Members’ initial measures have been continuously updated and strengthened by new actions introduced in light of experiences of dealing with the challenges encountered in individual sites,” the lengthy statement continues.

Encouragement

Last Friday, May 15, a guidance note on managing risks associated with Covid-19 infection in meat processing businesses was published by the HSE and was distributed to MII members.

Verification of the measures is being overseen by officials of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine who are present in members’ facilities. The guidelines are said to “incorporate and complement” the measures that MII members had already been implementing.

Commenting on the situation Cormac Healy MII senior director said: “MII members do not underestimate the challenge Covid-19 poses and acted quickly and comprehensively to address the situation over two months ago.

“Whilst there have been a significant number of positive Covid-19 cases in some plants, it is important to recognise that many plants have had either no, or low numbers, of cases.

Thankfully, a large number of affected people have now recovered, and more recently detected positives continue to complete their self-isolation periods and recovery.

“This is cause for encouragement, but not complacency – and our aim is to take all the appropriate measures we can to minimise the chances of more cases developing.

“We welcome the HSE guidance note which will assist MII members as they continue to manage the ongoing situation,” Healy said.

As a business sector designated by government as an essential service, it is said that the industry will remain focused on containment of Covid-19 infection; while also endeavouring to continue operations during this period.

MII said it is also reassured by recent comments of the Chief Medical Officer, Tony Holohan, that there is “no current justification” for the closure of meat processing plants.

“Businesses will continue to be guided by the expert advice of the health authorities in this regard and will always act in accordance with such expert advice.

“MII members will continue to work with the National Outbreak Control Team chaired by the HSE, whose role is to provide oversight and co-ordination in the prevention and management of Covid-19 outbreaks in meat plants,” the statement concludes.

Measures in place

The following is a summary of the range of measures that are being implemented in meat processing facilities across the country. These have evolved as more is learned and understood about the spread of the virus and represent shared best practice, MII has said.

The measures include:
  • Covid-19 response teams established at each site;
  • Detailed risk assessments implemented and regularly reviewed;
  • Regular briefings to all staff and comprehensive training provided to employees since the outset of this pandemic;
  • Employees are not allowed to work if they have symptoms of Covid-19;
  • Temperature screening conducted before staff entry on-site;
  • Minimise / eliminate any non-essential movement across sites/work departments;
  • Staggered breaks and lunches with physical distancing implemented (additional canteen capacity has been put in place to facilitate this distancing);
  • Additional and enhanced cleaning and disinfection of contact surfaces and communal areas;
  • Additional and enhanced hygiene, sanitation and bio-security protocols, over and above the stringent procedures which were already in place;
  • Existing PPE complemented by further measures e.g. face visors where appropriate;
  • Changes implemented to workstations, where feasible, to facilitate physical distancing;
  • Reduce line speed to facilitate additional distancing;
  • Installation of perspex screens at workstations as a barrier between operatives;
  • Covid-19 signage and notices across all the plant;
  • Administration and office staff are working remotely where possible;
  • Enhanced protocols in respect of inbound animal transport (hauliers, farmers) and outbound product dispatch;
  • All non-essential site visits have ceased;
  • Immediate contact-tracing process implemented by the company on notification of a confirmed Covid-19 case amongst the workforce;
  • Full co-operation with directions from the HSE and Public Health authorities where positive cases do present.

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