18 May 2020

Updated 25 June 2020

Is it necessary to protect yourself?

Your personal protection is important. The best way to protect yourself from COVID-19 is to wash your hands and to avoid close contact with other people and working close to others. Keep a distance of at least 1–2 metres from clients and colleagues. Do not shake hands when greeting people.

Follow the instructions and rules your employer has issued concerning safety, work clothes and protective equipment use.

It is the employer’s duty to familiarise employees with the work and to ensure that they are not exposed to the coronavirus.
The employees must have the opportunity to wash their hands with soap and water.
If hand washing is not possible, there must be hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol concentration available. Faces must only be touched with washed hands.

How does the coronavirus spread?

The novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) primarily spreads by droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. When in close proximity to others, coronavirus can also be transmitted via contact if, for example, an infected person coughs in his hands and then touches another person.  There are no known cases of infection via items, animals or foodstuff.

Basic instructions for avoiding infection – act accordingly

  • Come to work only if you are asymptomatic and only work with other asymptomatic people.
  • During the work and breaks, keep a distance of at least 1–2 metres from others.
  • If you work with a partner or a small group, work and have breaks only with the same partner or small group, if your work allows for it.
  • Wash your hands after arriving at the workplace or just before arriving. If washing with water and soap is not possible, use alcoholic hand sanitizer.
  • Using either water and soap wash or disinfectant, clean at least the contact surfaces of the shared work tools and devices after they have been used. Clean your hands, too.
  • Avoid touching the same surfaces as other employees. If possible, share the work tools and devices so that there is as little overlapping use as possible. Decide together, who is responsible for maintaining and fixing the devices.
  • Cough or sneeze into a disposable tissue or your sleeve and make sure that all of your colleagues have also taken these instructions into account. Blow your nose into a clean handkerchief.
  • If an agricultural entrepreneur must work while ill, they and their family members must work at different times and locations than the other workers. Sharing work tools must also be avoided.

Personal hand hygiene

Taking care of personal hand hygiene means washing your hands before starting a work task and after it, before and after going to the bathroom and always before eating or smoking or otherwise touching your face, such as after blowing your nose or coughing into your hand.

Protective gloves and other protective equipment are not a replacement for good hand hygiene. Hands must be washed even after using protective gloves. Any visible dirt must always be removed by washing hands with soap and water. After that, the effect of washing can be boosted with alcoholic hand sanitizer.

Using respiratory protective equipment

  • On a farm, there is often the need to use protective equipment, such as respiratory protective equipment, protective gloves or a face mask, due to the dusts, gases and chemicals present in the work environment. The respiratory protective equipment can be, for example, a disposable class FFP3 or FFP2 filtering half mask.
  • If reusable (half masks, blower respirator) protective equipment is used, it must be cleaned after use, either with a solution of water and soap or with disinfectant. More detailed maintenance and cleaning instructions can be found in the protective equipment’s instructions. After use, disposable protective equipment is disposed into mixed waste to be incinerated.
  • The most important thing in using respiratory protective equipment is that the equipment fits tightly to the face and that it has a class P3 particle filter that protects from biological factors. On a farm, the use of this actual respiratory protective equipment is mainly determined by risks other than COVID-19.
  • You do not usually need a mouth-nose protector or a home-made mask to protect yourself from the coronavirus in agricultural work, but the symptomatic agricultural entrepreneur can use the equipment to protect the production spaces and work tools from droplets from sneezing and coughing. A symptomatic employee must not come to the workplace.
  • If you handle a respirator, mouth-nose protector or mask without taking care of hand hygiene or someone sneezes or coughs near you, the protective equipment might become a source for infection. Therefore, disposable versions of the equipment are used when, for example, going to the shops or being back at work between breaks.
  • An FFP respirator or a surgical mouth-nose mask cannot be washed.
  • Masks made of cloth can be washed. Wash your cloth mask using a hot cycle (60°C) or boil it for five minutes in water with a small amount of detergent. Rinse and dry the mask.
  • Put on the mask with clean hands. Do not touch the outer surface during use. Take the mask off without touching the outer surface. After use, disposable protective equipment is disposed into mixed waste to be incinerated. Wash or disinfect your hands after taking off your protective equipment.
  • If the policy on the farm is to use a face protector equipped with a transparent plastic visor, the visor must be washed with a solution of water and soap after use. If someone else borrows the visor, it is recommended you disinfect it in addition to the washing. However, please note that, in principle, the personal protective equipment is for personal use.

Challenges of collective accommodation

  • If there is accommodation at the farm, it is important to ensure that safe distances can be maintained and that taking care of personal hygiene is possible in the accommodation.
  • It is best to use disposable paper towels as hand towels. If cloth towels are used, they must be personal and they must be changed at least 2–3 times a week.
  • Farm clothes must be changed once a week. Laundry must be washed at a temperature of at least 60°C degrees.
  • Foreign workforce must follow the practice of spending two weeks in quarantine. Persons who have arrived at the farm at the same time can share the same accommodation, thus forming a collective quarantine unit. If new foreign workers arrive at the farm after the first group, they naturally form their own quarantine group for two weeks.
  • The quarantine groups cannot meet each other in the accommodation, social, eating or other such spaces. Human contact with people outside the quarantine must also be prevented, both in the spaces mentioned above and when people are transferred.
  • The employees can work at the same time in the fields, in the nursery and in the greenhouse, as long as proper safety distances are maintained.

Cleaning shared spaces

  • The cleaning must always proceed from cleaner spaces to dirtier spaces. All surfaces that are touched with hands, such as handles, door handles, doorjambs and taps, etc., must be wiped clean daily with a mildly alkaline cleaner.
  • The accommodation must have its own cleaning implements. Disposable protective gloves must be worn while cleaning and, if other kinds of protective gloves are worn, they must be cleaned with soap and warm water. Disinfectant must be used in the rest rooms.
  • The cleaning implements must be washed with hot (90°C) water and cleaner or disinfectant. It is recommended you prefer disposable cleaning implements whenever possible.
  • After the working day has ended, employees must change out of their work clothes into their civilian clothes. The clothes must be washed weekly.
  • When people working on farms are in public spaces, such as shops and public transport, they must even then practice good hand and coughing hygiene in order to prevent bringing the disease to the workplace.
  • Before using the shared tools and devices, clean them by wiping them with a solution of water and soap or alcoholic cleaner. If you can use disposable protective gloves, wear them when using shared devices. When possible, you can cover the controls and keyboard of a shared device with a disposable plastic sheet that is put into a waste bin after use.

Examples of farm work and protection

Planting potatoes. The work might require sitting close to other people in the planting machine. This means that maintaining a safe distance is practically impossible. If there is need to limit contact between employees, it might be possible to install transparent plastic plexiglass into the planting machine, between employees.  If installing such glass is not possible, the employees can alternatively wear mouth-nose protectors or transparent face protectors, i.e. visors. This might prevent the droplets formed in coughing or sneezing from spreading onto another employee’s face.  There is usually soil dust present in this work, so it is sensible to protect one’s breathing with, for example, disposable class FFP2 or FFP3 respiratory protective equipment.

Preparing potatoes for sale. In this work phase, the work stations must be arranged so that the distance from other employees is at least 1–2m. There is usually harmful dust in the air in this work and therefore it is recommended you have respiratory protective equipment or efficient local ventilation in place. If respiratory protective equipment is not available or using it is not deemed necessary, mouth-nose protectors or visor-like face protectors can be used to decrease the possibility of droplet infection. However, a visor or a mouth-nose protector does not protect from dust.

Animal transportation. When transporting animals, it is recommended you pay attention to the work methods so that unnecessary human contact can be avoided.

  • Animals leaving for transfer or slaughter should be moved close to the farm building’s entrance by the farm workers so that they are ready to be picked up. A common solution is to have a separate space in the building where animals for the transportation can wait. This means the driver of the transportation or slaughterhouse vehicle and any other person in charge of the loading of the animals into the vehicle can work without any contact with the people on the farm. There should also be a way to transfer the animals’ papers. A letterbox, for example, can be used for this.
  • In the farm building, there should also be a space where animals coming into the farm can be let out from the transfer vehicle. This can be the same space the animals leaving the farm use.
  • When requesting a cloven hoof specialist, a service provider who has an assistant to help transfer the animals can be used. This helps avoid human contact between the people on the farm and the cloven hoof specialists.
  • In animal transfers that require several people, it might be difficult to maintain a safe distance from other employees. In such cases, it is recommended you use a mouth-nose protector, visor-like face protector or respiratory protector.  Respiratory protective equipment protects not only from droplet infection but also allergenic epithelial dust from animals.

If an agricultural entrepreneur or employee falls ill

If somebody at the farm suspects to have coronavirus, he/she should immediately contact the health centre and carry out a symptom assessment using the  Omaolo-website.

If a person is diagnosed with a coronavirus infection, efforts are first made to find out where the person was infected and who else may have been infected by you. This tracing work is carried out by health professionals in order to help contain the epidemic.

The symptoms of the corona virus are fever, cough, shortness of breath, muscle pain, fatigue, runny nose, nausea and diarhhoea. Loss of the sense of smell and/or taste have also been reported as symptoms of a COVID-19 infection.

An agricultural entrepreneur should plan in advance the necessary supportive measures for farm work, in case they themselves fall ill. An entrepreneur must aim to stop the disease from spreading to other members of their family. They must also avoid working, moving around in the production spaces or the farm’s vehicles while ill.

An employee must notify the employer of their illness as quickly as possible. If the employer demands a doctor’s certificate for sick leave, they must contact the health centre or occupational health services via phone or online applications provided by the services.

Further information please contact viestinta@ttl.fi 

The guidelines of the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health (FIOH) are drawn up together with the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health (SMAH) and the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare. We also follow the publications of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), COVID-19

World Health Organization (WHO), coronavirus