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Developing a biosecurity plan for employees (July 28, 2015)
By Sarah Everhart, Legal Specialist, University Of Maryland Francis King Carey School Of Law
Biosecurity is a set of proactive measures designed to prevent the spread of disease in poultry and livestock.
There are three major components to any biosecurity plan: traffic control, sanitation, and isolation.
While many farmers create a biosecurity plan for farm visitors, it is also advisable for agricultural employers to create a biosecurity plan for employees.
Given the importance of biosecurity measures, an agricultural employer may want to consider making compliance with a farm’s biosecurity plan a key provision of any employment contract and/or relationship.
Employee biosecurity plans should contain clear directives to help prevent the spread of pathogens through foot and vehicle traffic.
At a minimum, a plan should address how employees are to prevent the spread of diseases from shoes and clothing.
For example, an employer should spell out whether employees will have a pair of shoes and a set of overalls, stored at the farm, to wear only when working around poultry or livestock.
Given the current threat of avian influenza, it may also be advisable for an employer to prohibit an employee from wearing his or her boots and overalls outside of the poultry or livestock barn and providing an adequate storage area for employees to store their boots and overalls near the entry of the barn.
An employee biosecurity plan should also include a provision disallowing visitors to the farm, unrelated to the farming operation, who may carry pathogens and spread disease onto the property.
An employee biosecurity plan should also have standards for sanitation such as hand washing rules.
In addition to establishing hand washing standards, the employer should ensure that work areas are equipped with adequate hand washing facilities for employee use.
The plan should include information on how employees are to clean and maintain livestock cages, poultry areas, food/water containers, and tools used around poultry and livestock.
To prevent the spread of disease, employees should be properly warned against the danger of sharing tools and supplies with other farmers, and employees should be prevented from borrowing farm equipment for personal use without properly cleaning the equipment before returning it to the operation.
An employee biosecurity plan may include restrictions on after-hours activities which can pose a risk to poultry or livestock.
One example would be restrictions on employees coming into contact with off-farm animals at livestock demonstrations or other places where off-farm livestock are present, such as the feed store and fairs.
The plan should also inform employees how to prevent disease from entering the farm through vehicles such restricted driving areas and methods of disinfecting vehicles upon reentry such as the required washing of vehicle tires, if they have driven in an area where off-farm animals are present.
Further, employers may want to establish a parking area a fair distance from poultry and livestock to prevent the spread of pathogens.
Finally, employees should know the warning signs of infections in poultry and livestock because early detection is very important to prevent the spread of disease.
Employers need to make sure their employees are well educated on the warning signs of infections in poultry and livestock and provide employees the opportunity to attend education classes on the topic.
Upon noticing signs of infection in the poultry and livestock, employees should be instructed to immediately inform their employer and the farm veterinarian.
Contract growers will also need to alert their service technician as quickly as possible.
How can an agricultural employer make compliance with a biosecurity plan a condition of employment?
An employer should put an employee biosecurity plan in writing, distribute a copy to each employee and allow employees an opportunity to read the plan and ask questions about the plan during working hours.
Regardless of whether an employee has a written contract, it is a good idea for an employer to keep a short signed acknowledgment from each employee that he or she has received the biosecurity plan and understands its terms.
If an employer has a written employment contract with an employee, the contract should state that the employee has had an opportunity to read the biosecurity plan, understands it, and that failure to comply with the plan is grounds for termination.
An employer who does not have a written employment contract with an employee should clearly explain the consequences to the employee if he or she fails to act in accordance with the plan.
To encourage compliance, an employer should set a good example of proper adherence to the biosecurity plan.
If an employer doesn’t follow the practices outlined in the biosecurity plan, it is unlikely employees will follow the measures.
Biosecurity measures are constantly changing as new diseases and prevention methods emerge, so it is important for employers to assess and adjust their biosecurity practices and plans periodically.
An employee biosecurity plan should include language that the plan is subject to change at the discretion of the employer and compliance with the plan, if amended, is a condition of continued employment.
This post contains very general concepts on biosecurity plans for employees. Any employee biosecurity plan should be carefully tailored to the specific type of poultry or livestock cared for and the individual operation.
The University of Maryland Extension can help farmers create appropriate biosecurity plans for their operations and any farmer with questions should contact their local Extension office for assistance.
Additionally, a good source of information on poultry biosecurity can be found at: http://extension.umd.edu/poultry/commercial-poultry-production/biosecurity-protects-your-birds.
(Editor’s Note: Sarah Everhart is a legal specialist with the University Of Maryland Francis King Carey School Of Law. This article is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney and should not be viewed as legal advice.)
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