By Sarah Everhart
Biosecurity is a set of measures designed to prevent the spread of disease on your property and in your poultry and livestock. Biosecurity planning is a proactive approach to safeguarding the health and productivity of your 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 like bacteria and viruses 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 and how often shoes need to be cleaned (and the method of cleaning), whether shoe covers need to be worn, or whether employees will have a pair of shoes and a set of clothes, stored at the farm, to wear only when employees are working around poultry or livestock. If clothes are stored at the farm, the plan should specify the person responsible for cleaning the clothes and the frequency with which the clothes need to be cleaned. An employee biosecurity plan should also include a clear directive to employees to disallow visitors to the farm, unrelated to the farming operation, who may carry pathogens and spread disease onto the property.
An employee biosecurity plan may incorporate restrictions on after hours activities that can pose a risk to poultry or livestock. For example, 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 using such methods as washing their vehicle or tires prior to reentry, 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.
An employee biosecurity plan should also have clear directives on 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.
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, if available in the area. 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, allow employees an opportunity to read the plan before starting employment, and give employees the opportunity to ask questions about the plan. 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 clearly 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. In order 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 that are outlined in the biosecurity plan it is unlikely that his or her 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 periodically adjust their biosecurity practices and plans. An employee biosecurity plan should include language making it clear 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 carefully tailored to the specific type of poultry or livestock cared for and the individual operation. The University Maryland Agricultural 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 here: http://extension.umd.edu/poultry/commercial-poultry-production/biosecurity-protects-your-birds.