Agriculture industry placements after coronavirus (COVID-19)

This article provides thoughts and ideas to help employers to think through and plan for being able to welcome students on farming and agriculture, horticulture and animal care industry placements whilst considering the journey out of COVID-19 restrictions.

COVID-19 and safety procedures

Key safety procedures will have been put in place to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 within the workplace. 

  1. Students must be fully aware of the safety procedures

The learning provider will carry out a risk assessment prior to any student starting an industry placement. The provider will also advise on what should be covered during the induction including procedures for reporting and isolation in case someone reports COVID-19 symptoms at work.

You will be responsible for ensuring the student is aware of all safety procedures prior to starting the placement. This can be done by sending out virtual guides or leaflets on what is in place.

This may be the student's first experience of work and so it is good to recap regularly and ensure that if the student works on different sites that updates on safety arrangements are provided for each.

“We design placements specifically for the student, the work begins before they arrive, and they go through a detailed induction at the start of the placement. Staff from the provider are invited to the workplace to ensure that all involved understand all aspects of the work available. Students have trial days to help them understand the requirements and safety responsibilities prior to the start of the placement. Students are then buddied up with an existing employee who can support their learning, safety and work.”
Bruce’s Doggy Day Care

  1. Agriculture and horticulture may involve large teams

High numbers of employees mean more risk of infection spreading between individuals. To combat this, there must be adequate hygiene facilities such as hand sanitising stations throughout the workplace.

Teams could be split into ‘bubbles and staggered shift to help maintain distancing. This would ensure that, should an individual from one bubble display symptoms, the other bubble could step in to help with their workload.

  1. Considering the industry placement model

All placements require considered planning to ensure that the model of the placement reflects the work offered and maximises the usefulness of the placement both for the student and the employer.

A preference for a block placement model may suit agriculture and horticulture placements as there may be high demand for activity at particular times, for example harvesting, lambing, seasonal peaks.  This may also be helpful when considering travel arrangement if you are able to offer accommodation in a more rural location and for creating a consistent team or bubble to support social distancing.

  1. Equipment may be shared between employees

Equipment used in agriculture and horticulture is often shared by workers. To minimise the risk of spreading infection, all equipment should be regularly sanitised.

“Farming struggles to attract young people into the industry. We are starting to see this change and T Levels will support this change by providing the insight to the sector and the amazing opportunities available. Newbridge Farm offers industry placements with diverse opportunities to understand the animals, the tools and the technology that together support the farm.
Planning is essential to maximise the experience and the student ideally needs to have a buddy (supervisor) to work with every day to ensure that they are learning from that experienced colleague. In terms of health and safety, there is a major aspect of safety when using machinery. Students need high quality training and there are some pieces of equipment including quad bikes, spraying and driving some machinery that is not available to the students. Working together with the learning providers we plan what is and is not possible for the student.”
Newbridge Farm

  1. Deliveries and goods

Deliveries can introduce a risk of infection. It is good to have a clear delivery point to avoid the delivery driver encountering numerous staff and deliveries should be disinfected before being opened.  Students should be fully aware of processes and procedures for safe receipt of supplies to ensure that they can advise others if asked and as part of their learning.

  1. What seasonal, temporary and industry placement workers need to know

All staff must be aware of policies in place to protect against the spread of infection. Full induction, procedures, training, and signage must be in place to ensure all workers and students know the protocols in place. This should include how to report if COVID-19 symptoms develop.

If someone were to display symptoms while working, there should be a plan in place to remove this worker without contacting others.  The systems and procedures used for your temporary workers is likely to be the same as the information required for students and so your planning and preparation to engage a student on placement is likely to be straightforward. 

  1. Take enhanced precautions when introducing new animals to a facility.

There is a very small risk that animals may be able to catch a specific virus that originates from contact with people displaying COVID-19 symptoms. Social distancing and the usual measures of COVID-19 safety between staff will minimise this risk further.  Other important actions that may be sensible include activities that a student on an industry placement may be able to support.

These include:

  • It may be important to observe new animals being introduced to an animal care facility for any health concerns.
  • Cleaning and disinfection of habitats will be essential between different groups of animals and before new animals are added.
  • Maintaining records to allow tracing of animal movement.
  • Animals that are returned to retail pet stores, breeding facilities, or any other establishments should be kept separate from other animals and observed for signs of illness, in consultation with a veterinarian.
  1. Markets and sales involve large numbers of people in close proximity

To avoid causing further risk to employees and students, online sales could be used which would help maintain workers safety and could also be an innovative sales platform. This could help sales continue throughout any future lockdowns as it involves minimum face-to-face contact. 

  1. Students may need to live in work-accommodation

Learning providers must carry out appropriate checks in terms of safeguarding. Social distancing must be maintained and where possible students should be put in a ‘bubble’ with anyone else they are staying with.

You will need to ensure safety through regular and intensive cleaning, especially of surfaces with high usage such as communal kitchens and bathrooms.

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