Australian Country Choice (ACC) supplies trade cattle and high-quality beef products to local and export customers. It has over 1200 employees and operates as an agricultural producer and a meat processor.
ACC’s initial response to COVID-19 was focussed on two critical and interdependent challenges:
- The health, safety, and wellbeing of employees:
- high volumes of people, in close proximity to each other
- culturally diverse and multi-lingual workforce
- concern for employee’s mental health
- Maintaining operational continuity:
- labour contingency
- safely continuing to supply
- business continuity plans including animal welfare.
A thorough and systematic risk assessment led to the implementation of several innovative control strategies at all levels of the hierarchy of control. Strategies included:
- changing the work design (e.g. adding individual partitions and seating allocations in operational lunchrooms)
- paying absences for staff who may have been a contact to encourage self-isolation
- developing reusable and launderable balaclavas
- communicating specialised messaging for social distancing - ‘stay one-cow-length’ apart
- using sign language instead of shouting to limit air droplet spread
- conducting mock emergency response scenarios to test the system’s ability to track and trace a case of COVID.
Announcements were regularly communicated with staff through toolbox talks, text, lunchroom TVs, posters, emails and ad-hoc meetings across all levels of operations.
The ACC response spanned the entire workforce and there are ongoing positive effects. The accelerated use of digital technology is proving to be time and cost effective, there is an increased level of preparedness for bio security threats, and increased engagement, trust and disclosure with staff.