Salmon Farming: The key role of risk prevention experts during the pandemic

have been very receptive to communication and awareness campaigns, which have resulted in increased willingness to adopt measures that prevent the spread of infection, as we are aware that this is the only way to sustain the business.”
Similarly to other industries around the world, the salmon industry has not been spared the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially with regards to processing food in an industry that employs large numbers of people.
The role of risk prevention experts has become vital in adapting procedures to the new health, labor and logistics requirements.
Accordingly, AQUA talked to two experts from salmon farming companies, to learn more about their job. They are Javier Cisternas, Occupational Health and Safety Manager at Australis Seafoods, and Víctor Cárdenas, Occupational Health and Safety Manager at Salmones Camanchaca.
Javier Cisternas, Occupational Health and Safety Manager at Australis Seafoods
Tell us about your duties as a risk prevention expert in a salmon farming company during a pandemic? Has your job become busier? In what way?
My team has always had an important responsibility, to improve the quality of life of our employees and avoid risks. The workload during the pandemic has been continually growing. At first we had to understand COVID-19 and how it affected people. Then we implemented risk prevention measures, which expanded and became more detailed as our understanding grew. The job intensified during the pandemic, especially for support departments such as Occupational Health and Safety, Communications, Human Resources and Operations, who have been fully committed to providing the best working conditions to our employees who continued to come to work.
Furthermore, Australis has supported all the initiatives that the Occupational Health and Safety department implemented and promoted to effectively protect the health of our employees.
What risk prevention and safety measures have been implemented to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at hatcheries and fish farming sites?
The first task was to define the standards that govern how we operate. It was also essential to understand the situation within each area. For example, a farming site near Punta Arenas in the Magellan region is not facing the same problems as a hatchery in Cunco in the Araucania region. Therefore, the measures should specific to each area.
At farming sites we test employees as they enter and leave the site, which reassures us that they are in good health. We started with blood tests, but we are now doing PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests.
We have been testing all external people who enter our freshwater hatcheries, to avoid sources of infection. Company communications are also very important, with awareness campaigns that help people to understand protocols and the risk prevention procedures, how to implement safety measures and who can help with any problems.
What measures have been implemented at processing plants?
Processing plants have always operated with very strict sanitary measures, even before the pandemic began, so the COVID-19 preventive measures were relatively easy to implement. The focus was on introducing physical barriers to mitigate contact between employees. Shifts were modified and maximum capacities applied to facilities and vehicles. Check points were introduced at entrances with temperature recording, epidemiological surveys and health teams that evaluated them. Personal protection equipment and educational information was provided to employee’s families and other people.
What are the company protocols that apply to someone who tests positive for COVID-19?
The main protocol is for that person to remain in quarantine. Another important protocol is to trace their movements and identify all the required information, to contact the health authorities and provide the required support, and to immediately quarantine all those who are close contacts. Close contacts are identified by the health authority, but we also quarantine any employee who may have been in close contact, in order to maximize risk prevention. Key sectors are disinfected and a testing plan is prepared for subsequent shifts. The most important protocol is to comply with the health authority’s regulations, but we continually strive to do more.
What have been the main difficulties that you have faced as a risk prevention expert during this pandemic? Do people find these risk prevention measures difficult to accept and apply?
I think so, as it has been a big challenge, at least in our company. Monitoring and controlling compliance with health protection measures is difficult, especially during leisure time. This is an indication of habitual and cultural issues, but we believe that they have gradually decreased and people have accepted risk prevention measures into their routines.
How do you see the future? Do you think that despite the pandemic declining in salmon farming regions, specific precautionary measures will still be required?
This situation has taught us the importance of occupational health and safety issues and how to protect many people. This implies that everyone takes care of each other, with the company developing measures and people learning how to apply them. The company’s fundamental strategy in these times of crisis has been prioritizing the health of our employees and their families, in order to continue operating.
If we continue to work together as a team with this focus, we should be able to improve our regional numbers.
Victor Cardenas, Occupational Health and Safety Manager at Salmones Camanchaca
Tell us about your duties as a risk prevention expert in a salmon farming company during a pandemic? Has your job become busier? In what way?
The pandemic has created tremendous challenges for everyone, and risk prevention experts are no exception. These months have been very busy, we have been applying the lessons learnt and working hard to protect all our employees and ensure that the business continues. Salmones Camanchaca implemented a health protocol early on, to prevent infection among our employees and sub-contractors, and we have now extended our protection to their families and the local community. This hard work has ensured that we continue to operate satisfactorily and fulfill the company’s objectives.
What risk prevention and safety measures have been implemented to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at hatcheries and fish farming sites?
Camanchaca has implemented strict health measures to protect employees from COVID-19, which have been driven by the COVID-19 Committee, which is composed of managers, occupational health and safety managers, and advised by a doctor. The purpose of this Committee is to continually evaluate, implement, disseminate and monitor the health measures introduced by the company and the Health Ministry.
The protocol includes restricting access to our facilities to only those employees strictly necessary; remote working for employees who can work from home; temperature checks for anyone entering our facilities; social distancing measures for areas where employees come together, such as in vehicles, dining rooms, changing rooms and other rooms; continual cleaning and disinfecting of vehicles, dining rooms and changing rooms; postponing or canceling business travel within Chile and abroad; providing a free medical advice telephone service for employees and their families called “Fono Salud Camanchaca”; daily plans for PCR testing of internal and external people entering fish farming areas, where only people with a negative PCR result are allowed to enter; 1,780 digital thermometers provided to employees across the entire salmon business, of which 530 were provided to employees in the salmon department; and digital COVID-19 passports for employees and sub-contractors entering the facilities.
What measures have been implemented at processing plants?
The company has also tried to detect infection at an early stage among its employees, so conducted surveys to ascertain the circumstances facing vulnerable families at greatest risk, in order to provide support and isolation, where necessary. Proactive assistance is being provided through “Fono Salud Camanchaca”, educational radio campaigns in Tomé in the Biobío region, webinars for employees and communities conducted by the “Asociación Chilena de Seguridad” (Chilean Safety Association – ACHS) ‘En Camanchaca nos cuidamos todos’ (We take care of each other in Camanchaca), an informative video ‘Prevención Covid en el Hogar’ (COVID-19 Prevention in the Home) to reinforce health measures at home, a puppet show to encourage risk prevention by involving children, and even a children’s video competition to promote safe behavior among local communities and employees. 1,780 digital thermometers were provided to employees across the entire salmon business. Disinfection products were provided to each employee at the Camanchaca plants in the Biobío region.
Furthermore, significant progress for the Company has been achieved by conducting over 3,800 preventive tests from mid-August to the end of September with only 1.4% showing positive results. This early detection program will continue at the salmon plant in Tomé for the rest of the year.
What have been the main difficulties that you have faced as a risk prevention expert during this pandemic? Do people find these risk prevention measures difficult to accept and apply?
The main difficulty has been changing our habits. However, our employees have been very receptive to communication and awareness campaigns, which have resulted in increased willingness to adopt measures that prevent the spread of infection, as we are aware that this is the only way to sustain the business. The fish farming industry is part of the food industry and normally operates with very high standards, to ensure the quality of its products.
The results of the social and health survey indicate that people are very aware that they must comply with risk prevention protocols and respect them.
How do you see the future? Do you think that despite the pandemic declining in salmon farming regions, specific precautionary measures will still be required?
We must continue to be vigilant in the future, until there is an effective cure for COVID-19. However, we are now better prepared to deal with other emergencies. Meanwhile, we must not relax our guard and should regularly review the effectiveness of the risk prevention measures we have adopted to date, to keep COVID-19 away from our employees.