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Apr 23, 2020

WASHINGTON: L&I tackles COVID-19 safety for ag & food workers

COVID-19Safety and Health 

Washington’s Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) recently released new requirements and suggestions for agriculture and related industry employers to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus). L&I released a general fact sheet containing requirements and suggestions for all agriculture and related industries and another that’s specific to food processing and warehouse operations. The agency had already released a general fact sheet with prevention ideas for all industries. For agriculture and related industries, the requirements include:

Implementing a social distancing plan: When possible, all workers must be kept at least six feet away from each other and the public. L&I’s list provides many helpful ideas, such as staggering shifts and breaks, centralizing and staging tools and materials so they can be monitored and cleaned, providing radios to prevent the need for in-person communication, and modifying work assignments. For specific tasks where it’s not possible to maintain social distancing, you must take other preventive measures such as installing physical barriers, adding negative pressure ventilation, and requiring workers to wear commercially produced facemasks. Facemasks alone are insufficient; if they’re used, it must be in combination with engineering controls such as barriers. Review our Model Policy, Social Distancing Policy, as you work on this requirement.

Ensuring frequent and adequate handwashing: Workers must wash hands effectively when they arrive at work; leave for and return from breaks and meal periods; and after touching any surfaces that haven’t been cleaned after others have touched them (e.g., tools previously used and not cleaned). Employers must provide training and handwashing stations in fields or other work locations that include at least tepid water, soap, disposable paper towels, and a trash can. To meet this expectation, L&I suggests actions such as setting a schedule to ensure stations are resupplied, providing disposable gloves as an alternative for workers whose skin is irritated by frequent handwashing, and offering flexible breaks to engage in handwashing.

Increasing regular cleaning of common-touch surfaces: You must set a schedule to ensure common-touch surfaces are cleaned, using EPA-approved cleaning supplies. You must provide appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) for the cleaning process and keep Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) for all disinfectants on site. L&I suggests following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) COVID-19 cleaning guidelines and covering fabric and other surfaces when possible to make them easier to clean.

Ensuring sick workers isolate: Employers must have processes in place to isolate workers who become sick. If a worker contracts COVID-19, you must have a process in place to shut down their work area and properly clean and disinfect all surfaces they came in contact with. Be sure to review our recent reporting on the CDC’s guidance on this topic.

Providing basic hazard education in a language the worker understands best: This education must include the signs, symptoms, and risk factors associated with COVID-19; how to prevent the spread of the virus, including steps being taken at work; the importance of handwashing and how to effectively wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds; proper etiquette to cover coughs or sneezes; directions not to touch eyes, noses, or mouths with unwashed hands or gloves; and expectations for cleaning and sanitizing frequently touched items.

Workplace protections: L&I also reminds employers that any adverse action taken against a worker because they raise concerns about safety and health, participate in union activities, or participate in a safety or health investigation is unlawful retaliation.

The fact sheet for food processor and warehouse operations is similar, although there’s additional emphasis on regularly cleaning and disinfecting work surfaces. L&I recommends that you appoint sanitation workers to continuously clean on an increased schedule and that you follow cleaning directions for food contact surfaces. L&I also suggests marking the floor with chalk or colored tape to help workers stay at least six feet apart.

Tips For Employers: L&I also plans to address temporary worker housing. L&I and the Department of Health (DOH) have already issued a draft emergency rule for temporary worker housing to address worker education, physical distancing in workers’ lodging, cleaning and disinfection, and what to do when workers fall ill. Comments on the draft emergency rule are due by April 27, 2020 and should be submitted to both agencies at and The final emergency rules are tentatively slated to take effect in early May. Contact your Vigilant safety professional and Vigilant Law Group employment attorney with questions about keeping workers safe in light of L&I’s requirements and guidance.

This website presents general information in nontechnical language. This information is not legal advice. Before applying this information to a specific management decision, consult legal counsel.