The Alberta government and Alberta Health Services (AHS) have provided the guidance to support Cargill to take aggressive measures to protect the health and safety of workers at the Cargill Canada beef-processing plant and keep Canada’s food supply chain strong.
Public health officials, Occupational Health and Safety (OHS), the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and others have all worked to ensure safety precautions were implemented at the facility, identify and support those with COVID-19 and help limit the spread to other workers.
There have been 908 COVID-19 cases in workers at the plant, including 631 who have recovered.
Alberta Health Services
AHS first provided guidance to meat-processing facilities in March. As soon as the specific outbreak was identified, AHS took action to ensure outbreak control measures were implemented, support workers and limit the spread of COVID-19.
A dedicated AHS task force is working around the clock to respond to the outbreak. This task force has worked to identify cases, support workers and the community, and has provided specific information on measures such as disinfection and staff protocols required to ensure safety.
To support and enhance safety precautions put in place by the company, AHS Environmental Public Health inspectors and Calgary zone medical officers of health have been at the Cargill site regularly since April 8 to ensure additional infection prevention and control measures are in place, and no deficiencies have been identified. These measures include:
- Staff having their temperature checked before entering the facility.
- Face masks and other personal protective equipment being provided to employees and worn at all times.
- Ensuring enhanced cleaning and sanitizing practices are being followed.
- Following new rules for staggered breaks and shift flexibility to ensure physical distancing.
- Prohibiting visitors at the facility.
- Increasing distance between employees and putting screening in place between individual employee stations.
- AHS officials will be on site next week to ensure that all infection prevention control measures are being followed, and provide additional assistance if needed.
AHS will also continue working with local community organizations, Primary Care Networks and the local municipalities to help support those already impacted by the outbreak. This includes:
- Testing and providing medical supports for anyone in need.
- Educating on how to use PPE.
- Education and support for how to safely self-isolate.
- Information on supports available.
To limit the spread, the Government of Alberta and AHS have secured isolation accommodation for the placement of confirmed cases of COVID-19 for Cargill workers and close contacts for the purpose of self-isolation.
Translation services are also being utilized to help explain requirements concerning self-isolation and COVID-19 testing, and to communicate the availability of other supports that may be necessary to prevent the spread of the virus.
Alberta Agriculture and Forestry and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA)
COVID-19 is not a food-borne illness. That said, to support the continuous operation of Alberta’s food supply chain, Agriculture and Forestry has partnered with the CFIA to increase food inspector capacity. Provincial meat inspectors are being trained for deployment to high-priority federally licensed plants in Alberta, if needed, to maintain inspection capacity
Agriculture and Forestry has also established an intergovernmental business resumption protocol for provincially and federally licensed food processing facilities in Alberta. This protocol was the first of its kind in the country. It formalized the cooperative approach used among the various organizations to minimize disruptions in the food supply and ensure operations can safely resume as quickly as possible when there is a closure.
Occupational Health and Safety
In addition to AHS, OHS officials have visited the Cargill Ltd. beef-processing plant in High River on a number of occasions to monitor compliance with requirements to keep workers safe.
On April 15, an OHS official conducted a live, fully interactive virtual inspection of Cargill, with the inspector directing movement as required to observe employees at their daily duties. Workers, including a union representative, were included in the inspection process to ensure a fair and balanced assessment of the health and safety conditions. Virtual inspections are not specific or unique to the Cargill facility. On-site inspections were also conducted on April 27 and 29.
Officials will be on site when the plant resumes partial operations on May 4.
OHS is now conducting an investigation at the Cargill meat processing plant. This investigation will look at the circumstances surrounding potential exposure of workers at Cargill related to COVID-19. This will also include an investigation of any potential non-compliance that may have affected the health and safety of workers at the facility.
- COVID-19 guidance documents have been made available:
- COVID-19 Workplace Guidance for Business Owners
- COVID-19 Public Health Recommendations for Food Establishments
- Telephone town halls for employees and community leaders have been held with Agriculture and Forestry Minister Devin Dreeshen, Labour and Immigration Minister Jason Copping, and Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health.
- Telephone town halls for employees have been held with Alberta Health Services to provide additional information, answer questions and address concerns.
- Cargill is one of almost 200 licensed meat slaughter facilities in Alberta.
- Only Cargill and JBS foods are experiencing major outbreaks.