COVID-19: Policy and measures

COVID-19: Update 22 June 2020

Ronald Lotgerink, CEO of Vion Food Group: “We’ve got nothing to hide. We contribute to the worldwide food supply. As a company in the ‘vital industry’, we have been asked to continue working during the coronacrisis. Our people are fully committed to this every day, complying with the regulations of the national- and international authorities. That is something to be proud of. Inspections confirm that we meet those required measures. Compliance with and supervision of our corona protocols in all our companies show the same.

We must fight the virus together. We follow the experts of the authorities and are learning more and more about how we can ensure that our employees can work safely. This means that Vion will make the adjustments necessary to be able to work safely. It also means that people must comply with the rules we agree on together. That is the only way we can guarantee our own health and that of others and keep the company running.”

A. Vion adjusts continually - employees' health and safety is no. 1 priority

Second half of February 2020: focus on hygiene
After the first indications of COVID-19 infections in China and Bavaria, we implemented an initial set of measures in mid-February, mainly focused on personal hygiene (frequent hand washing, entering the factory and changing rooms), being alert to symptoms, and staying at home in case of symptoms to prevent interpersonal contamination.

Vion follows the regulations of the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) closely
As of mid-March, Vion implemented additional measures based on applicable government policy and RIVM guidelines. In this period, Vion continually adjusted on the basis of additional findings and recommendations of the Municipal Health Service (GGD), the NVWA, Inspectorate SZW, RIVM and the relevant Security Regions. The company is in close contact with these authorities.

1.5 metres distance: adapted production
When, in mid-March, a distance of 1.5 metres between people is added as a guideline, Vion immediately implemented this measure in its regulations. The deboning line was slowed down so that colleagues can work alongside each other at the required distance. Working hours and breaks were extended to regulate the number of people in changing rooms and company restaurants. The time between shifts was also lengthened to avoid contact between the different shifts.

Required additional measures
In early May, the first healthy people outside healthcare were tested in the Netherlands. As in healthcare, corona infections were reported in healthy people, some of whom work at our company in Scherpenzeel. The GGD and Inspectorate SZW emphasised that Vion had implemented all required measures. However, we still implemented additional measures, such as separating groups of people even further and wearing face masks. Vion also conducted a pilot in which employees’ bodily temperature was measured upon arrival.

Daily insight
As of February, Vion has full insight daily in the number of employees from at-risk groups in all countries and at all sites, also in Groenlo (Rule applicable from the start of the pandemic: go home immediately); those employees suspected of having the coronavirus (Rule: go home immediately and stay there until there have been no complaints for 24 hours); the number of employees with corona (Rule: home isolation).

Testing of healthy people: over 20% infected
At the request of the German government and in collaboration with the GGD, all 650 employees of the Groenlo site were tested at the end of May. This was the first time that healthy people had been tested on such a large scale in the Netherlands. The test showed that 21% of employees have the coronavirus. No-one in this group of almost 150 employees has symptoms indicative of corona.

All employees infected with the coronavirus were put into isolation for a period of 2 weeks. The other employees of the Groenlo site went into quarantine for 14 days. They continue to receive their wages and they are not allowed to work at other locations or for another employer. Vion monitors this closely.

Expansion of measures and monitoring compliance
Immediately after the test results became known, Vion decided to take further additional measures at all its locations. Additional attention is paid to monitoring compliance with the 1.5 metre guideline and the other regulations. In addition, Vion started using larger coaches to transport people to and from work, made wearing face masks during transport mandatory, and works actively on adapting employees’ accommodation.

Focus on living situation
Vion has set up a dedicated project group to visit and evaluate as many of the accommodations of its flex workers as possible. This project group investigates whether the current situations meet the existing corona guidelines and whether temporary or permanent measures are needed to protect employees’ health. As this involves a great many residential locations, Vion makes both internal and external capacity available to streamline this process, together with its temporary employment partners.

At the end of May, Vion appealed to all its employees and those in the rest of the sector to have themselves regularly tested preventively for corona. This helps determine who is infected and who is not, and how the virus develops. Our aim is to ensure that all our employees and NVWA and KDS supervisors can work safely at Vion.

Additional measures for specific parts of the company
In early June, the Municipal Health Service tested 105 employees in Boxtel, of whom 18 (17%) tested positive. The employees who tested positive mainly work within the so-called “cold areas”, such as the cutting hall and processing. Vion will be introducing a compliance protocol for the organisation as a whole, with additional measures for those specific parts of the company. The protocol seeks to ensure protection of staff, so that all employees without health complaints can continue to work. Vion will also introduce this compliance protocol at its other production locations. The Municipal Health Service is monitoring the agreements made.

Vion and Municipal Health Service work together

  • The Municipal Health Service will repeat a random sample among the employees of the company at a time yet to be determined.
  • The Municipal Health Service has informed Vion that work can be resumed if progress of the measures and additional insights from the source and contact investigation give reason to do so.
  • Finally, Vion will be working with the Municipal Health Service on an ongoing basis in relation to medical matters, research and surveillance, and process and quality agreements.

All employees who are tested positive by the Municipal Health Service (GGD) must go into home isolation. If this is not possible because the house does not provide enough opportunity for privacy, Vion will provide temporary housing suitable for quarantine in collaboration with the temporary employment agencies. The employees will be accommodated here under full board for the duration of their stay. Our Housing Task Force – our home inspection team – visits our employees’ accommodation every day. All locations meet the criteria of the SNF certification but additional measures may follow based on the visits and an evaluation of the results.

Health check

All employees of our companies are given a health check before setting to work. Employees with mild symptoms are not allowed to go inside and are sent to the Municipal Health Services’ test streets by the company doctor. These checks and tests continue every day. The cooperation with the Municipal Health Services is going well.

Labour inspectorate

Several Vion locations have been visited by the labour inspectorate (SZW). They conducted broad and in-depth interviews with employees and inspected the measures at the production location. The results were good.

Initial results of the measures

In the first two weeks of June, a total of 150 Boxtel employees were referred to a test street because of the Health Check, of whom 26 tested positive. These 26 people were given isolation instructions in accordance with national guidelines and did not participate in the work process during this period. The source and contact investigation as conducted by the company doctor in consultation with the Municipal Health Service shows that the number of people with substantial symptoms is limited.

The Hart voor Brabant Municipal Health Service has initiated specific surveillance around Vion and receives information on the checks and the number of employees who test positive on a daily basis. This shows that even people with mild symptoms are identified at the gate, and that the number of people with complaints and the number of persons who tested positive have declined during this period.

Additional studies

In addition to the measures Vion has taken in consultation with Hart voor Brabant Municipal Health Service, Vion has worked with the RIVM (National Institute for Public Health and the Environment), Erasmus University (EUR) and the IRAS of Utrecht University on drafting protocols, while various studies have been started to evaluate the effects of the measures. The results will be published in the scientific literature together with the participating institutes. In the context of these studies at the Vion site in Boxtel, environmental monitoring was recently started and a number of employees were tested last Monday.

  • Environmental monitoring: a study in collaboration with the IRAS and EUR is ongoing about the possible presence of the coronavirus in production rooms. This comprises surface, contact and air samples in the meat processing rooms. The initial results show that 94% of all samples studied do not contain the virus. In the 6% of the samples that were positive, very low virus contents were found.
  • Employees: on 15 June, 80 employees were tested, of whom 27 tested positive for the coronavirus. The analysis of the lab values shows that all persons who tested positive have a very low virus RNA content. This is consistent with non-recent corona infections. The number of people with complaints in the study group has decreased sharply compared to the study by the Municipal Health Service at the end of May.

B. Corona protocol: an overview of the measures

Measures related to health complaints

1. Employees with mild health complaints should not be at work and are sent home immediately, even if they do not have a temperature.

2. Vulnerable employees either work from home or are in home quarantine.

3. Employees stay at home if a family member has a temperature or has tested positive.

4. Vion will introduce a daily health check, approved by the Municipal Health Service, which includes a test of the health and well-being of all employees upon arrival at the company. Vion will perform this health check every day, for all employees and visitors as well as for inspectors working on site. When any health complaints are observed in employees, visitors or inspectors, they are refused access to the company and referred for a test by the Municipal Health Service. Vion will provide different language versions and interpreters.

Measures related to visits and events

5. No visits to customers and business relations.

6. No visits to Vion sites (unless absolutely necessary and with approval from manager).

7. Participation in external events / workshops / training (Vion Academy) has been cancelled until 1 June, in accordance with government guidelines.

Measures for office staff

8. Where possible, employees are enabled to work from home.

9. Office workspaces are arranged in such a way that employees can keep 1.5 metres apart.

10. Breaks in block times and set-up of company restaurants adjusted to 1.5 metres.

Measures in the production locations

11. Start times and break times are staggered to prevent people standing too closely together in the restaurant and at entrances and exits.

12. Groups of the same people are kept together as much as possible in all parts of the company: personal facilities, workspace in the business unit, and company restaurant.

13. Employees keep a distance of 1.5 metres from each other. Where necessary, workspaces are separated by means of plastic blinds or plexiglass:

  • Where possible, this is ensured by putting a partition (crates, small fences, etc.) between people.
  • Where keeping 1.5 metres apart is not possible, transparent plastic screens/panels have been placed between employees.
  • There is a transparent plastic partition between the people on the inspection platform.
  • People passing each other must stay at a distance of 1.5 metres from each other; this has been achieved by placing a partition and introducing one-way traffic.
  • Lines have been applied to indicate the distance between people.

14. Managers of the production locations are visible in the workplace and consult with employees and the NVWA on a daily basis to explain / coordinate measures taken. Active monitoring of compliance with the rules.

15. Production only accessible to production employees.

16. General hygiene measures:

  • Vion will perform daily large-scale cleaning and disinfection, aimed at reducing the chance of the corona virus being present. In addition to this cleaning and disinfection of the work area, the entire area will be disinfected by means of disinfecting air treatment.
  • Additional cleaning and disinfection of, among others, handrails, door handles, turnstiles and sanitary facilities.
  • Mandatory disinfection of hands when entering and leaving the company.

Measures for transport and outdoor premises

17. The formation of groups on the outdoor premises / in the car parks is not permitted and is strictly monitored.

18.  Restrictions for transport in accordance with the applicable guidelines:

  • No more than 2 people in a car and 3 in a minibus (incl. driver).
  • Although this is the responsibility of the temporary employment agencies concerned, Vion regularly reminds these agencies about the correct execution of these measures. Vion itself also monitors correct execution and sends away minibuses with too many people.
  • Vion deploys coaches to transport everyone to and from work safely. Until 1 June, 13 people per 50-seater coach. As of 1 June, no more than 29 employees per coach, in accordance with RIVM regulations.
  • The use of face masks when commuting in a car, minibus or coach is obligatory.
  • Disinfectant is available in all coaches.
  • Minibus drivers are not allowed to enter company premises.

Measures related to housing

19. Comprehensive risk analysis based on the SNF standard (Stichting Normering Flexwonen; foundation for flexible housing standards):

  • Conducted by dedicated Vion team (HR in collaboration with internal auditing department).
  • In collaboration with temp agencies as the employers of temporary employees.

20. Where necessary, larger housing communities are divided and people are housed at other locations to prevent the risk of infection.

C. Close monitoring of compliance with the corona protocol

Corona supervisors have been appointed at all locations to monitor compliance with the regulations.

21. Corona supervisors:

  • Are responsible for monitoring and enforcing the corona protocol.
  • Monitor continuously throughout the day from the moment of arrival.
  • Take corrective action.
  • Focus on this task and report on it to the location manager.
  • Supervise that there are no employees with health complaints.
  • Maintain monitoring lists and ensure these are visible.
  • Are clearly recognisable (for instance, by wearing a vest or hard hat) and present within the different production departments.

22. Zero tolerance

  • If employees and suppliers who are aware of the rules fail to comply with them, their contract is terminated and we will no longer work with them.

D. Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

How does Vion explain the high percentage of infected employees?

  • The RIVM indicates that the virus is spread at home in most cases.
  • The exact cause is being studied in collaboration with the GGD and Erasmus University.
  • We continuously tighten our measures at all locations based on RIVM regulations and insights from other authorities, such as the GGD and Inspectorate SZW.
  • Measures have been taken in the workplace, in the home situation and during the transport of employees to prevent infection as much as possible.

The following policy applies to employees after their individual test results have been made known:

  • People who test negative are permitted to work, provided they have not shown any symptoms for 24 hours;
  • People who test positive and show symptoms must stay in isolation at home until they have not shown any symptoms for 24 hours; they may only return to work if at least seven days have passed since the test result;
  • People who test positive and do not show any symptoms must stay in home isolation for 72 hours. If symptoms develop within this period, the policy from the previous point will be initiated.

Didn’t Vion take measures far too late? How come?

  • Vion already implemented an initial set of measures as soon as the first signs of COVID-19 infection were seen in China and Bavaria, in mid-February.
  • In March and May, we implemented additional measures, always in line with the guidelines provided by RIVM, GGD, NVWA and Inspectorate SZW.

Is it possible to keep 1.5 metres apart in abattoirs?

  • Vion adheres to RIVM regulations at all its locations. In places where it is difficult to keep 1.5 metres apart, we have installed screens. In some situations, employees wear face masks.
  • Compliance with the rules is closely monitored.

Does Vion consider it sensible for employees to live together in small communities?

  • When there is no corona, this way of living together does not pose a risk. Everyone has their privacy and there are communal facilities. Currently, larger communal spaces are a point of concern because of the risk of infection.
  • We are working actively to adjust the housing of our employees to the situation. Where possible, larger housing facilities are divided into smaller units. We do this in consultation with the municipalities in which we are active.

 How is transport arranged?

  • The rules for the transport of people have been tightened to comply with the RIVM 1.5-metre guidelines for transport.
  • When travelling together, employees also wear face masks.
  • We use coaches on various routes to transport groups of employees, so that it is easier to keep a distance of 1.5 metres. Until 1 June, 13 people are allowed per 50-seater coach. As of 1 June, no more than 29 employees per coach, in accordance with RIVM regulations.
  • To avoid ambiguity, we have abandoned the guideline for “households” for our temporary employees, so that there are no more than the stipulated maximum number of people in our coaches.

How is it possible that so many minibuses with too many employees were stopped by the police in Apeldoorn?

  • We have continually taken measures in February, March and May. The RIVM, GGD and Inspectorate SZW ensured this. The same applies to transport.
  • The lack of clarity mainly concerned the definition of “household” within the agreements that apply to transport. We were also of the opinion that our employees who live together in the same residence belonged to a single household.
  • According the Apeldoorn police, this is in breach of the restrictions laid down by RIVM.
  • We immediately responded to their appeal. Our employees, temporary employment agencies and drivers have been given clear instructions to eliminate any ambiguity about transport.
  • This concerns thousands of employees and numerous transport movements. There is no 100% guarantee for the many hundreds of journeys made per day. But we do not tolerate the agreements we make being compromised.

What test policy is in place at Vion’s locations in the Netherlands and Germany?

  • Vion is in favour of preventive and regular testing at all locations in the Netherlands and Germany.
  • Vion has appealed to the GGD and Security Regions to do so.
  • The GGD is currently conducting tests in the meat sector, including at Vion locations.
  • Vion is in favour of testing employees in their home situation wherever possible, as this is where most infections take place, according to RIVM.

Can the virus spread through raw meat?

  • The RIVM and NVWA have established previously that the virus does not spread through (raw) meat.

Can the virus spread through livestock, or living animals?

  • Pigs and cows do not appear to play a role in the spread of the virus. Despite the extensive literature already available in this field, Vion is participating in a study at the request of the OMT (Outbreak Management Team) to investigate this again in pigs. The results of this study are expected in the coming months.

Which locations are currently closed?

On 4 June Vion opened the production site in Groenlo after approval of the security region North and East Gelderland. There are currently no Vion sites closed.

Isn’t this a wake-up call for the entire meat sector? Is the sector healthy?

  • We are proud of our company, of our industry and of the fact that we have the opportunity to ensure the meat supply for our country.
  • This corona crisis makes it clear that we should aspire to continuously improve in areas such as human and animal welfare, working conditions, sustainability, the environment, and the care for each other. Corporate Social Responsibility has been an integral part of our strategy and management for many years.
  • Vion has the ambition to lead the way in the transition of our industry.
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