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Pandemic impacts and lessons learned take center stage at the poultry industry's 2021 National Safety Conference

The 2021 National Safety Conference for the US poultry industry highlighted the impacts and lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic while stressing the need for emergency response plans.

8 September 2021, at 7:38am

Industry safety professionals recently gathered in Destin, Florida, to discuss the safety challenges facing those involved in poultry production and processing. The National Safety Conference for the Poultry Industry is sponsored by the Georgia Tech Research Institute/ATRP and US Poultry & Egg Association (USPOULTRY).

The first day of the conference opened with a discussion on the ongoing impact of COVID-19 on safety standards and regulations. The discussion featured Kathleen Jennings, principal associate at Wimberly, Lawson, Steckel, Schneider & Stine PC; Matt Spencer, director of HR and safety programs for USPOULTRY; and James Ferrell, corporate manager of risk for Foster Farms. Though COVID-19 was the shared topic, each speaker highlighted a different challenge facing employers as they attempt to navigate the ever changing recommendations concerning the health of their employees and businesses.

Jennings and Spencer discussed legal and regulatory standards affecting decision making in the workplace. “You need to make a plan to mitigate the risk of potential exposure in your workplaces. Map out traffic flow through your facilities, identify weak areas, note where employees tend to congregate, and immediately address any areas of concern,” Spencer commented.

“It is not a HIPAA violation to ask an employee whether or not they are vaccinated,” explained Jennings. “The issue you need to be concerned with is what effect that question will have on your workforce, on morale, on recruiting and retention – all of which are huge issues. These conversations are going to look different for each employer.”

Ferrell focused on putting proactive measures in place to try to prepare for the possibility of a repeat event, stating, “In the animal industry, there are several overlapping risks, just based on the structure of our business. There is the obvious zoonotic factor, as well as high rates of turnover and immigration in our workforce, and a necessity for international trade and travel. We are right in the middle, should there be a repeat. So how can we plan and prepare for the next round?”

Dr David Schaller, corporate director of safety and health for Valley Proteins, and Chad Randolph, corporate director of safety and health for Pilgrim’s, shared a presentation on the safety hazards of dust in rendering operations and feed mills. Both speakers stressed the importance of creating emergency response plans and having resources onsite to deal with flash fires.