West Side dairy producers have enacted a variety of precautionary measures against coronavirus infection in an effort to keep employees and their families safe.
From stepping up sanitation protocols to encouraging employees to stay home when sick, dairies are implementing many of the same safeguards that are being applied in workplaces of all sorts.
Those measures often include reminding employees not to congregate in time card areas or break rooms - but the very nature of the business is such that employees are most often not working in close quarters with one another, dairy producers reported.
Dairy producers are used to dealing with milk price swings, production costs beyond their control, increased regulations and more extensive compliance report requirements.
And this year, they found themselves dealing with a pandemic.
“Our employees expressed a lot of fear, as did the rest of the world,” said Tony Lopes, who is the operations team leader at the Tony L. Lopes Dairy founded by his grandfather, and is also involved in the family’s P&D Dairy. “They are concerned about their families and their households. We did everything that we could to make that that we were not going to be a source of any more concern for them.”
Lopes said the importance of hygiene was stressed to employees, and that restrooms, areas where employees clock in and out and other facilities are routinely sanitized.
“Given the nature of our operation, our breaks and lunch times are pretty staggered as it is. Our system was already set up to where they won’t all be in the break room at the same time,” he explained. “For the majority of our employees, with our work being outdoors, social distancing is not as much as a challenge as you might have in a meat packing plant.”
Employees were also reminded to follow recommended guidelines.
“It was really just an abundance of caution to keep everybody protected,” Lopes said.
The dairy also used its suppliers to help secure hard-to-find items such as paper products and sanitation products for its workers and their families to take that worry off their shoulders. Workers were also provided documentation that they are essential workers in the event that they were stopped by law enforcement.
“We felt we needed to be pro-active about that to ensure they felt comfortable,” Lopes commented.
And, the importance of staying home when sick was emphasized.
“A lot of our guys have the mantra that if we’re sick we have to fight through it. When this happened we had to have a talk with our guys, (telling them) if you’re feeling under the weather you need to take responsibility for that and stay home,” Lopes told Mattos Newspapers.
When employees called in sick, they were asked not to return until they had been tested for COVID-19.
“Everybody was willing to do that,” said Lopes, noting that no employees tested positive.
Moonshine Dairy also implemented a number of protocols, said owners Rich and Jacquie Dyt.
Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines were printed in English and Spanish and posted.
The Dyt’s daughters were given the assignment of sanitizing facilities such as break rooms, as well as door handles, four times a day.
Sanitizers were put in any equipment that was shared by employees.
“We had a meeting with the guys and just talked about the seriousness of it, and that we wanted to maintain the social distancing,” Jacquie Dyt reported. “Even though they work together, they are not in close proximity. We also tried right away to stagger their lunches so they weren’t all taking lunch at the same time.”
The number of dairy visitors - already largely limited only to those with essential business - dropped even further when the pandemic struck.
“We haven’t had any salesmen come by in months,” Rich Dyt said.
Dairy producer John Toste said he, too, held meetings with employees encouraging them to keep social distance from others away from work as well as while on the dairy.
“Everybody is trying to wear gloves, stay safe and wash their hands,” Toste shared. “We try to social distance as much as we can. Before, you would get closer to an employee to talk. Now we kind of keep our distance. We try to do that. Everybody has a little concern over it. We are working together to make things better.”