CDC, OSHA develop guidelines to protect seafood workers from COVID-19

Published on
June 25, 2020

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Wednesday, 24 June, published guidelines to safeguard seafood processing workers from contracting COVID-19.

The CDC and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) said it developed the plan with help from the Food and Drug Administration.

“It is imperative that workers in the seafood processing industry are protected from coronavirus exposure in their workplace,” Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Loren Sweatt said in a press release. “OSHA collaborated with the CDC and FDA to provide this guidance, which outlines steps employers can take to provide a safe and healthful workplace for workers in this vital industry.”

The guidelines include policies for those working in land-based processing factories as well as those who work on fishing vessels. For example, the CDC and OSHA recommend anyone who works on a fishing boat self-quarantine for 14 days before getting on the vessel. The agencies say that employers should consider offering paid leave or “consider the quarantine time as worktime” to ensure compliance.

If a boat worker develops COVID-19 symptoms while at sea, they need to be immediately separated from the other workers to contain the spread of the virus. Vessel owners need to develop isolation plans and work with port authorities and other officials to determine how to get the affected worker to shore for treatment.

For inland processing plants, the agencies recommend the use of personal protective equipment that does not present a safety hazard for other aspects of the job. They also encourage the use of partitions if workers cannot maintain six feet of space between each other or work directly across from a colleague.

The guidelines come as the AFL-CIO has filed a lawsuit against OSHA seeking safety guidelines for workers specific to COVID-19. Several business trade groups, including the National Fisheries Institute, have filed amicus briefs on behalf of the government and opposing a ubiquitous approach.

In a statement, NFI President John Connelly thanked federal officials for understanding the role the seafood industry plays in the U.S. economy.

“The seafood industry specific guidance reiterates that seafood-processing workers are not exposed to the disease through the fish and seafood products they handle,” Connelly said. “It provides useful tools to minimize hazards for workers who come in relatively close contact with each other and may raise exposure risk factors. The guidance reviews screening, quarantining, and testing of both onshore and offshore employees and is in keeping with the best practices recognized by the industry for COVID-prevention controls.”

Photo courtesy of Berns Images/Shutterstock

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