Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): Workplace Health and Safety Information—Agriculture, Forestry & Fishing

CDC Releases COVID-19 Guidance for Agricultural Workers and Employers

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released specific guidance today for agricultural workers and employers to assist in preventing the spread of COVID-19 and to help lower the disease's impact at agricultural worksites. The guidance can be found at

Last week New York State released its own COVID-19 guidance for the agricultural industry ( It is generally recommended that you refer to your state guidance first, as state guidance typically overrides federal guidance in these instances.

Challenges to decreasing the spread of COVID-19 at agricultural worksites include:

  • Frequent close contact with coworkers in the field and indoors
  • Sharing of tools, equipment, such as tractors, and other production or processing machinery
  • Possible sharing of transportation such as ride-share vans, carpools, and public transportation
  • Living in employer-provided housing, sharing living quarters, cooking and eating areas, bathrooms, and laundry facilities with fellow workers
  • Frequent contact with fellow workers in community settings in areas where there is ongoing community spread of COVID-19

The guidance outlines policies and procedures relevant to the industry that farm owners and operators can use to ensure the safety of their workers and to facilitate their compliance with COVID-specific OSHA regulations.

"Recent stories in both national and local news have shown how COVID-19 has the potential to severely impact workers and farm productivity,", said Dr. Julie Sorensen, Director of the Northeast Center for Occupational Health and Safety in Farming, Commercial Fishing and Forestry (NEC). Sorensen noted that COVID-19 impacts have been severe in some cases, with operations either being completely shut down or creating labor shortages that have required euthanizing livestock or loss of product.  

"Prevention of COVID-19 will be key to managing the crisis and this guidance provides specific information for agriculture—and essential industry," said Sorensen.

The NEC, as well as another ten Centers for Agricultural Safety and Health designated by the National Institutes of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), collaborated with the CDC in developing the guidance.

Farm operations vary widely. For this reason, the NEC encourages agricultural business owners or managers feeling overwhelmed or uncertain about COVID-19 prevention practices to call and speak to one of its agricultural safety specialists. They provide free technical assistance to all farm types, from Maine to West Virginia.

For technical assistance with an agricultural safety specialist or an industrial hygienist at NEC, call: 800-343-7527

The NEC also provides free virtual safety trainings for employees, offered in English or in Spanish. The trainings can cover COVID-19 topics or a spectrum of other farm safety topics of concern related to a business' specific operation.

Serving a twelve-state region from Maine through West Virginia, the Northeast Center for Occupational Health and Safety (NEC) promotes health and safety research, education, and prevention activities in the high-risk areas of farming, commercial fishing and logging. For more information specific to workplace health and safety concerns in these industries and how they relate to the coronavirus pandemic, go to:

NEC Funding Announced for One-Year Research Projects

The Northeast Center for Occupational Health and Safety (NEC) is now accepting grant applications for one-year research projects. NEC will fund two pilot projects with $25,000 mini-grants each. NEC is looking for proposals that:

1. Lay the groundwork for larger, multi-year projects

2. Identify emerging health and safety issues in AgFF

3. Identify innovative and effective means for reducing/eliminating workplace hazards

The deadline for submission is July 8. Notice of grant awards will be sent to the selected projects on August 10. The start date for the grant will be September 1, 2020.

The Northeast Center (NEC) is one of eleven regional NIOSH research and outreach centers dedicated to improving the health and safety of farmers, fishermen, and forestry workers in the United States. To meet these objectives, NEC collaborates with organizations throughout the Northeast to identify emerging occupational health and safety issues and develop solutions to mitigate identified occupational hazards.

Requirements for submitting a proposal can be found on the NEC website: Preference will be given to proposals that support the goals of the NEC as well as proposals that explore topics related to COVID-19. All NEC mini-grant recipients will need to obtain Human Subjects research approval. Recipients will also be required to share their research results at the annual NEC Research Retreat and to provide a final research report.

Send completed proposals to Pam Tinc, Junior Research Investigator at Questions should be directed to Dr. Tinc by email or phone (800-343-7527).

Find more details here.

WEBINAR: Coping with the Added Uncertainties of Farming during the COVID-19 Crisis

A live webinar will be available for farmers and ranchers Tuesday, May 12, at 1 p.m. EDT titled "Behavioral Health Planning: A Key to Farming in the Era of COVID-19." Register for this free event at

ABOUT: COVID-19 adds new uncertainties to farming on top of a five-year or longer economic recession in most sectors of agriculture. Like so many things challenging farmers today—climate shifts, tariffs, and disease outbreaks in crops and livestock—COVID-19 is largely beyond the control of agricultural producers. Importantly, however, we can mostly control how we behave. 

Dr. Michael R. Rosmann, a farmer and psychologist at the Department of Occupational and Environmental Health at the University of Iowa, will talk about how to develop behavior plans, what the signs of physical and emotional distress are, daily ways to look out for one another while maintaining physical distance and other tools for coping. A question and comment period for listeners will be included.

Dr. Rossmann's life work has focused on understanding why people farm, what affects their behavioral health, and why suicide is unusually common among farmers. The upcoming Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network, funded by the Farm Bill, is largely based on work by Dr. Rosmann and his colleagues.

This AgriSafe event is sponsored by the Northeast Center for Occupational Health and Safety in Agriculture, Commercial Fishing and Forestry (NEC).

WEBINAR: Behavioral Health Planning: A Key to Farming in the Era of COVID-Tuesday, May 12

At 1 pm EDT

FREE. Register at

Can't make it? A recording will be available at 

FOR: farmers, ranchers, agricultural workers, and anyone who serves the agricultural community

Serving a twelve-state region from Maine through West Virginia, the Northeast Center for Occupational Health and Safety (NEC) promotes health and safety research, education, and prevention activities in the high-risk areas of farming, commercial fishing and logging. For more information specific to workplace health and safety concerns in these industries and how they relate to the coronavirus pandemic, go to:

Free Technical Assistance for Farms on Workplace COVID-19 Prevention

If you're a farm owner rattled by news of COVID-19 outbreaks on Northeast farm operations, you may be wondering, "How did this happen? Could this happen to me? What more can I do to protect my staff?"
Why not call and talk to one of NEC's ag safety specialists? They can review your business' prevention procedures over the phone, provide health and safety advice and identify any free resources and services that might help.
NEC is one of 11 Agricultural Safety Centers designated by CDC NIOSH. It is a non-regulatory agency equipped to provide free technical assistance on workplace health and safety issues, including COVID-19 prevention.
This is what we do. In unprecedented times like these, why wouldn't you call? Open Mon.-Fri., 8:30-4:30. Call: 800-343-7527

Tractors and Machinery Operated by Multiple Users: How to Clean and Disinfect during COVID-19

By Jim Carrabba

Agricultural Safety Specialist

Often more than one person operates the same tractor or piece of machinery on a farm operation in the course of a day's or week's work. Driving shared tractors and machinery may put operators at risk of contracting COVID-19 if care is not taken to clean and disinfect them thoroughly between operators.

The virus that causes COVID-19 is thought to spread mainly from person to person through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks. Spread is more likely when people are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet), according to the Centers for Disease Control. People can also become sick when touching their eyes, nose and mouth after contact with contaminated surfaces. Depending on the surface, the virus can remain viable for hours or even days.

One user per machine is best, but may not be possible

When possible, assign one operator per tractor, vehicle, or other mobile piece of equipment while COVID-19 remains prevalent. If equipment must be operated by multiple people, then it must be properly cleaned AND disinfected at the beginning and end of each shift, or between different operators in the same shift. This applies to open station tractors and other equipment as well.

Use an equipment sanitation checklist and log to track cleaning and disinfecting activities.
One can be downloaded from:

Items that must be cleaned and disinfected

Clean and disinfect the operator's compartment thoroughly. Pay close attention to all high touch surfaces such as grab handles, railings, door handles, steering wheels, dashboards, levers, knobs, buttons, switches, touch screens, seats, and armrests.

Cabin filtration systems will not protect you from COVID-19

Cabin filters will not protect you from the virus. While in the cab, you could be expelling the virus through your breath, cough or sneeze. The filtration system could be recirculating the virus inside of the cab. Where possible, leave windows open for ventilation.

How to properly clean and disinfect tractors and machinery

CLEANING: Removes visible dirt and must be done first, otherwise disinfecting will not work. Cleaning is done with water, detergents, and steady friction from a cleaning cloth, brush or sponge.

DISINFECTING: Kills viruses and bacteria. A disinfectant can only be applied to surfaces, never on your skin. Use disinfectants that are appropriate for the specific surface.

Products to use for disinfection:

Diluted household bleach.
To make a bleach solution, mix:

  • 5 tablespoons (1/3rd cup) bleach per gallon of water, or
  • 4 teaspoons bleach per quart of water

Follow manufacturer's instructions for application and proper ventilation. Check to ensure the product is not past its expiration date. Never mix household bleach with ammonia or any other cleanser. Unexpired household bleach will be effective against coronaviruses when properly diluted.

EPA-registered household disinfectants
A list of approved products effective against COVID-19 can be found at the EPA website: :

Alcohol solutions can also be used
Ensure solution has at least 70% alcohol

During cleaning/disinfection:

  • Wear splash proof googles and nitrile or neoprene gloves while working with disinfectants that spray or could splash.
  • If the surface is dirty, remove visible dirt and debris and clean the surfaces using detergent or soap prior to disinfection.
  • Always read the label carefully and follow disinfection product manufacturer's instructions.
  • Allow the disinfectant to remain on the surface for its required contact time before wiping the surface dry.

After cleaning/disinfection:

  • After gloves are removed, immediately wash hands thoroughly with soap and for at least 20 seconds and dry with a clean paper towel.
  • All disposable materials must be placed into a leak-proof garbage bag and sealed for disposal.


How to Protect Yourself and Others from Coronavirus

Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Home

Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Construction Equipment Cabs

Serving a twelve-state region from Maine through West Virginia, the Northeast Center for Occupational Health and Safety (NEC) promotes health and safety research, education, and prevention activities in the high-risk areas of farming, commercial fishing and logging. For more information specific to workplace health and safety concerns in these industries and how they relate to the coronavirus pandemic, go to:

Cloth Face Coverings vs. Respirators: What's the difference and when should we use them?

By Christina Hall, NEC Farm Safety Educator

Farming in the era of COVID-19: the work is essential but how do we protect ourselves and our employees effectively in the process? The best protection controls right now are going to continue to be social distancing, wearing face coverings, sanitizing hands, and performing temperature checks.

The Centers for Disease Control have recommendations about respiratory protection involving cloth face coverings. Some farms may already have other types of protection on hand, like respirators. Respirators and cloth face coverings provide different types of protection and prevent exposures in different ways. Here is the breakdown on different options and when to use them:

Cloth Face Coverings:

Cloth face coverings can be homemade and are reusable. Designs for easy, homemade cloth face coverings are available at Using these in combination with plastic faceshields (which can be purchased online), can help to limit the potential for infection.

To be clear, cloth face coverings function to protect others around you from the airborne droplets you're exhaling, but they do not protect you from the airborne droplets others are exhaling, which is why it's important for each person to be wearing a cloth face covering and to use these in combination with other measures such as social distancing and plastic face shields. For agricultural tasks where respiratory protection is required (such as spraying pesticides), cloth face coverings are not an adequate substitute for a NIOSH certified respirator.

In a farm setting, people working closely or in closed or poorly ventilated areas should each be wearing cloth face coverings to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Those handling food should also be sure to wear them. Cloth face coverings should be removed carefully and washed regularly. It is also important to wash your hands after handling them and to use face coverings in combination with other infection control practices previously described.

Disposable N95 Respirators:

NIOSH-certified respirators meet certain standards of protection, depending on the model, and form a seal on the wearer's face to filter all incoming air. For example, the popular N95 disposable respirator protects the wearer from up to 95% of particulates when worn properly. The 'N' signifies that it is not resistant to oil, whereas an 'R' or 'P' preceding the number signify different levels of resistance to oil.

New to the market, KN95 respirators are often no more effective than cloth masks and are not designed to be reused. These are also not NIOSH certified.

You should only wear respirator models for which you have been fit-tested and which match the task you are completing. A passed fit test ensures that a particular respirator will properly protect you from harmful exposures. Without a fit test, you could risk wearing the wrong size respirator, which would not be effective at protecting you.

Respirators are currently in short supply with priority for inventory being given to healthcare workers working in high-exposure settings. For farmers, that means that it may be difficult to purchase more of these even though you may have tasks that require you or your employees to wear a respirator. It is important, then, to use your inventory of disposable respirators only when the hazards of your workplace require it. Each worker should have been fit tested in the model you have available. Workers who do not have a prior valid fit test should not wear a respirator and should not perform tasks where one is required until fit testing becomes available. (For information on temporary relaxations to Worker Protection Standards, go to:

On and off your face, a mask is only as safe as you handle it

Respirator shortages also make donning and doffing (putting on and taking off) your respirators and properly maintaining them very important in order to increase their longevity and reduce your exposure. Disposable respirators are not designed to be reused again and again. Take care to don and doff respirators carefully and slowly to avoid contamination on the inside of the respirator, and store the respirator in a clean brown paper bag.

Unlike in a healthcare setting, disposable respirators worn on farms are likely to get soiled or hard to breathe through more quickly because of the nature of the dusty or dirty work that gets done while wearing them. Disposable respirators should then be disposed of when soiled, hard to breathe through, or damaged. Always wash your hands after handling.

Other respirators like half-face or full-face respirators have a longer lifespan when used and maintained properly. These can be reused and so, over time, may be a more cost-effective solution. Filters or cartridges should be stored separate from respirators and the respirator itself should be washed after wearing.

Respirators with exhale valves will not protect others from the airborne droplets being exhaled. If you have respirators with exhale valves, a cloth face covering should be worn over the exhale valve.

For more about respirators, cloth face coverings, and COVID-19 information for farmworkers, visit For questions, contact an NEC safety specialist through its partner organization, the New York Center for Agricultural Medicine and Health at 1-800-343-7527 or

COVID-19 Risk Factors for Farmers

By Erika Scott, PhD

The New York Center for Agricultural Medicine and Health (NYCAMH) would like to make farmers aware of the unique factors that may put them at increased risk of serious illness should they contract COVID-19. Even though most farmers in New York live outside the major 'hot-spot' areas, there is still reason to be vigilant about social distancing, handwashing, and using fabric face coverings in public. COVID-19 positive patients have been reported in every single New York State county. While some people experience little to no symptoms though they have COVID-19, people who are older, have asthma, are men, or have underlying health conditions are at increased risk of severe illness.

NYCAMH research published in 2015 showed that Upstate New York farmers (men) had an increased rate of asthma and uncontrolled chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) over their rural male neighbors. No surprise, the latest Census of Agriculture also shows our farmers are growing older, and the majority of those in farming are still men, who are at higher risk. While farmers are so often willing to take care of everyone else first, please don't ignore the important symptoms of COVID-19. If you begin to experience fever, dry cough, headaches, or shortness of breath contact your primary healthcare provider. You can also contact the NYS Department of Health COVID-19 hotline at 1-888-364-3065. COVID-19 testing is free in New York State.

Need advice on how to cope with the flood of changes that COVID-19 has brought to your family, business and workers? Contact NYCAMH at 1-800-343-7527 or visit our COVID-19 website ( where we can help with stress management through our Farm Partners Program, personal protective equipment (PPE) and alternatives, virtual farm safety trainings, and safety grants through the John May Farm Safety Fund.


1.            Earle-Richardson G, Scribani M, Scott E, May J, Jenkins P. A comparison of health, health behavior, and access between farm and nonfarm populations in rural New York state. J Rural Health. 2015;31(2):157-164.

2.            Census of Agriculture. USDA; 2017. Accessed December 11, 2019.


NEC releases 2019 Year in Review

The NEC staff accomplished some incredible things in 2019. Access the PDF version to read about our work on our Documents web page. 

Table of Contents
Message from Our Director, page 3
News and Notes, page 4
Surveillance, page 5
Farming, page 6
Fishing, page 8
Logging, page 11
Outreach, page 13
Publications and Presentations, page 17
NEC in the News, page 20
Welcome New Staff, page 21
2019 NEC Champions, page 22

NEC launches e-newsletter

Welcome to the first edition of the NEC newsletter! As you will see from the featured stories, our staff have been engaged in exploring new ways of quantifying injury burden, evaluating options for objectively assessing PPE use, identifying more effective ways of increasing survey response rates and significantly increasing the use of lifejackets in the fishing industry. We encourage you to subscribe to our quarterly newsletter, share this with colleagues, and reach out if you are interested in learning more about these activities or about collaboratingEven better, if you have conducted similar research and identified ways of productively addressing some of the inherent challenges in public health research, please share what you have learned!  We look forward to updating you in future about NEC research and outreach projects. - Julie Sorensen, NEC Director

Give Us Your Best Shot

Seeking Maine loggers to share pics of what they eat to get through a long work day

Maine loggers work 11 hours a day on average and commute over an hour to their job sites, according to findings from the Maine Logger Health and Safety project. That can make it hard to find time for regular meals. The NEC team is looking for Maine loggers to share firsthand what they eat to get through a typical workday. It's simple. Submit a single photo—of breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, or drinks—with a short text or voice memo. Do this at least once a week for six weeks. Loggers who sign up will receive a total of $100 in LLBean gift cards for participating. For more information, contact a staff member at 607-222-3614 or

Safety Posters that Show & Tell

Six new safety posters that vividly illustrate farm safety information in both English and Spanish versions are now available through NEC. The posters promote the following topics: Animal Handling, Zoonotic Disease Prevention, Dairy Chemical Safety, Needle Safety, Skid Steer Safety, and Tractor Safety. These and additional posters are available to download and print at:  They can also be ordered by calling 800-343-7527.




Press Kit

Cloth Face Coverings vs. Respirators: What’s the difference and when should we use them?
Respirators and cloth face coverings provide different types of protection and prevent exposures in different ways. Here is the breakdown on different options and when to use them during the COVID-19 pandemic.
286.1 KB
COVID-19 Risk Factors for Farmers
There are unique factors with COVID-19 that may put many farmers at increased risk of serious illness should they contract COVID-19.
523.1 KB

Recent Media

A Fitting Strategy To Save Lobstermen's Lives

As published in Forbes...

The Atlantic off the coast of New England is not a forgiving force. Water temperatures in the three miles from shore where most lobstering is done only reach the low 60s in the summer. They're close to freezing in the winter.

That cold water is the ideal habitat for the lobster that create a nearly-half-billion-dollar industry in Maine alone. It's also an easy place to get killed. 

Read the full article here.

Support network helps farmers going through difficult times

Stress levels for farmers in America have skyrocketed in recent years. With dairy prices low, many farmers are looking not just for financial support, but emotional support as well. Programs like New York State FarmNet have become integral for agricultural professionals in rural communities who may be suffering from depression…...

Read the full article here.

What Trump's budget means for tractor safety

Amid all the hoopla over President Donald Trump's fiscal 2018 budget plan, which called for major cuts to a host of agriculture and other rural programs, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention got little attention....

Read the full article here.