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.
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.
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.
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.
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.