Borthwicks – reducing the risks of Q fever to visitors at their meat processing plant
Thomas Borthwick & Sons (Borthwicks) conducted risk assessments at their meat processing plant to understand Q fever risks to site visitors, such as prospective employees, contractors and representatives.
As a higher order control measure to avoid visitor contact with potential sources of Q fever, Borthwick’s set up meeting areas away from high-risk areas on site, e.g. animal yards, kill floor, waste containment areas. This allows meetings with visitors to take place in an area that doesn’t require respiratory protective equipment (RPE) or for visitors to be vaccinated for Q fever. A preferred list of regular contractors was established to ensure those coming on site have been vaccinated and/or fitted for RPE.
Visitors who aren’t vaccinated or fit tested for RPE are only allowed to access certain parts of the site when a risk assessment deems it safe to do so, e.g. after hours or on weekends after the areas are clear of animals, cleaned and sanitised for internal areas, and dust suppression has been undertaken for external sites. This helps minimise the risk of contracting Q fever. Visitors without proof of vaccination or RPE fit testing are not allowed to access the plant unless other controls are implemented to minimise the risk.
Borthwick’s also organised with large freight carriers to have their drivers vaccinated. Smaller farm operators, who aren’t vaccinated, have been directed to commission a vaccinated driver to bring their stock into plant. A register created for vaccination and fit test information has been added to the usual contractors’ spreadsheet for security and is accessible to everyone upon entry.
Borthwick’s communicated with carriers about immunisation. Anyone without evidence is treated as unvaccinated and requires fit testing evidence. They must be clean shaven and supplied with a P2 respirator. The respirators are designed to protect the wearer from inhalable and respirable airborne particles that may pose significant health risks from exposure.
The register created can be accessed through security at the site entrance. Borthwick’s purchased a quantitative fit test machine and provide training qualifications for staff utilising it. All new employees are fit tested prior to employment and being clean shaven is a plant wide policy until staff are vaccinated. A respiratory protection plan was developed for fit test procedures for both the N95 and P2 respirators and Borthwick’s do their own fit testing for full face respirators and maintenance.
Work-caused Q fever is a notifiable incident and is a potentially serious disease that can cause acute (immediate) and chronic (long term) illness. The bacteria which causes this disease is mainly carried by cows, sheep and goats. People usually catch the infection by breathing in infectious aerosols or dust associated with infected animals, their blood and body substances and contaminated environments. Spread of infection from person-to-person is rare. It is not possible to tell if an animal has Q fever by visual inspection and mass testing of herds is not viable or recommended, therefore it is important to always have controls such as vaccination and/or RPE in place.