July 1, 2020

Agencies Publish Guidance on Protecting Seafood Processing Workers from COVID-19

Guidance issued last week by OSHA and CDC is intended to help employers in the seafood processing industry protect workers from exposure to SARS-CoV-2 both in onshore facilities and aboard vessels offshore. The joint interim guidance, which was developed in consultation with the Food and Drug Administration, addresses prevention and control of the spread of COVID-19 at seafood processing work sites, where workers often have close contact to one another—sometimes for 16-plus hours per shift. According to CDC and OSHA, seasonal workers who live in communal housing or in quarters onboard vessels may be at increased risk for infection. The agencies’ guidance recommends actions employers can take to reduce employees’ risk of exposure to the coronavirus in work environments such as processing stations and other busy areas in seafood factories.

The CDC/OSHA guidance urges employers to modify the alignment of workstations so that workers are at least six feet apart in all directions and to limit the number of employees on site at any given time by staggering workers across shifts. Other actions employers can take to reduce crowding in the workplace include adding additional stations for clocking in and out or staggering times for workers to clock in and out, and providing temporary break areas and restrooms or staggering workers’ break times. Employers should also screen and monitor workers for coronavirus symptoms and analyze sick leave and incentive program policies to ensure that sick workers stay home and are not penalized for taking sick leave if they have COVID-19.

Seafood processing workers are considered critical infrastructure workers within the food and agriculture sector. CDC’s guidance pertaining to critical infrastructure workers advises that they “may be permitted to continue work following potential exposure to COVID-19, provided they remain asymptomatic and additional precautions are implemented to protect them and the community.” Separate CDC guidance released in May is intended to help employers in critical infrastructure sectors continue operations to the greatest extent possible during the COVID-19 pandemic.