‘There’s no way you can be two metres apart’: How do food factories cope with coronavirus?
PUBLISHED: 11:30 01 April 2020 | UPDATED: 14:46 01 April 2020
Factory workers are spending hours standing close together on food production lines, but producers say they are doing all they can to stop coronavirus.
Food producers are categorised as key workers by the government and Norfolk and Suffolk are home to large companies such as 2 Sisters Food Group in Thetford and Flixton, Cranswick Country Foods in Watton and Eye, Bernard Matthews in Great Witchingham and Kinnerton Confectionery in Fakenham.
Some workers have raised concerns that on intensive production lines they have little choice but to stand close together.
One worker, who completed his first shift at 2 Sisters in Thetford last week, said he was surprised to spend the shift just half-a-metre from other staff.
“What struck me was the lack of checks,” he said. “I was standing shoulder-to-shoulder with people on the line.”
At Kinnerton’s chocolate factory in Fakenham, one source said: “I’m extremely concerned. There is no way you can be two metres apart and there are lots of staff there.”
The government has given the food industry an exemption to the two-metre social distancing rule.
Their guidelines state food manufacturers must only follow social distancing “as far as reasonably possible”.
“Where production environment makes it difficult to do so, consider what measures to put in place to protect employees,” the guidelines state.
The 2 Sisters worker said he was given protective equipment such as boots, a hairnet and overcoat, but claimed he had no training before he started his shift.
He said his biggest concern, however, was the lack of social distancing.
A 2 Sisters spokesman said it was not possible for its workers to stand two metres apart at all its sites, but it was looking at putting in barriers to separate staff on the line, such as a screen or curtain, from next Monday.
The spokesman also said the company was carrying out temperature checks on staff, had put up more hand sanitisers and was cleaning every two hours.
“When it’s impractical for employees in our food production facilities to maintain social distancing, we ensure effective hygiene practices should be maintained to reduce the chance of spreading the virus,” they said.
They added that staff already wore protective equipment and door handles, taps and vending machines were wiped down during the day.
They also said all staff were given appropriate training.
The spokesman added: “We are diligently following all the current regulations and requirements around ill health reporting and social isolation with strict return to work protocols enforced at every site.
“It is our duty to produce food for the nation, but in a safe environment.”
At the Thetford site canteen tables have also been moved apart and the smoking area and break area extended.
Bernard Matthews’ HR director Andrew Sherwood said they were trying to spread workers out as much as possible.
“In many parts of the factory it is not an issue,” he said.
In a discussion on a Watton Facebook page, meanwhile, workers at Cranswick Country Foods said they were standing just centimetres apart.
Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman said the issue had been raised with him and he had contacted Cranswick.
A company spokesman said: “The health and welfare of our teams are of the upmost importance to Cranswick. We have briefed all of our staff and are complying with all the relevant government advice for food production.”
Kinnerton has been contacted for comment.
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