Impact of COVID-19 on Agriculture

Worker Safety is Top Concern for Washington Farmer

News / FBNews May 11, 2020

Credit: RoozenGaarde Tulip Farm 

From mandatory masks and sanitization of facilities to social distancing and regular self-checks, farmers, like Washington Bulb Company’s Polly Welch, are putting their employees’ wellness front and center during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Shipping more than 70 million cut flowers all over the U.S. each year, Washington Bulb Company has about 500 employees during peak production times and about 200 year-round employees. The farm is located an hour north of Seattle. In addition to tulip and daffodil bulbs and cut flowers, they also farm grain. Among the employees’ many jobs are planting, harvesting flowers and bulbs by hand and machine, packing, barcoding and shipping.

Welch, vice president of Washington Bulb Company, said they started thinking early on about how to protect their employees from the coronavirus.

“It started with informational signage. Now, in all our warehouses and greenhouses we are requiring masks. We’re also doing extra cleaning throughout our facilities. We have social distancing in place and we’ve staggered all of our breaks,” Welch explained.

In fact, the farm was so far ahead of the game that when the state Department of Health issued emergency rules for employees, it was simply a matter of putting the new protocols into their written camp management plan because they had already been implemented.

Washington Bulb also encourages employees to be extremely mindful of what they’re doing when they’re not at work.

“We spend more time with our coworkers than we do our families,” Welch noted.

Along with some of the more obvious approaches to preventing the spread of the coronavirus, like providing masks for employees and keeping workers as far apart as possible, the Washington Bulb Company also posts self-assessment signs at building entrances. The signs prompt workers to consider if they have any COVID-19 symptoms, and, the sign instructs, if they do, they should go home immediately and call the office for assistance.

As Welch explains, the COVID-19 safety protocols were a natural extension of the farm’s approach to employee safety.

“You’ve got to always look at everything from the perspective of what’s good for the employee, what’s good for customers, what’s good for the company – all three of those work hand-in-hand.”

She continued, “It all boils down to concern for our employees; let’s keep everybody safe and alive. That’s kind of been our safety mantra. We want you to go home every night in the same condition that you came to work in.”

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