Farmers Continue Work with Minimal Coronavirus Protection — Occupational Health & Safety

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Farmers Continue Work with Minimal Coronavirus Protection

Agriculture farms continue to operate to grow crops and feed the country, but with minimal federal protections against the coronavirus, many farmers are worried about contracting the virus on the job.

Farms across the country are busier than ever, and most are fully staffed with workers who live locally, workers on temporary agriculture visas and migrant workers to travel from farm to farm. No matter the background of the worker, though, the agriculture industry has been given little federal protection against the coronavirus.

One recent article goes into the growing concern agriculture farmers have that their ‘business-as-usual’ operations could mean something bad if an outbreak happens.

One tomato farm in eastern Tennessee is home to hundreds of workers—local and non-local—who are working full days, in close contact with one another and with little PPE or coronavirus protection.

These workers live in close quarters, sleep in bunk beds and share bathrooms and kitchens. They ride crowded buses to work and often work in groups. Although agriculture workers are considered “essential,” they do not have health insure or paid sick leave.

“Almost every part of the process for picking tomatoes needs to be considered in light of COVID-19,” says Ken Silver, an associate professor of environmental health at East Tennessee State University, who studies migrant worker health on Tennessee tomato farms.

A number of farms across the country have already dealt with outbreaks, including farms in California, Washington, Florida and Michigan. The U.S. government, though, has yet to establish any enforceable rules to protect farmworkers from COVID-19 or instruct employers on how to proceed if their worker gets sick.

Migrant worker advocacy groups say the lack of federal guidance causes employers to take advantage of their workers and disregard their risk of infection. Farms say they are doing what they can to protect workers with the resources at hand, while also harvesting the crops.

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