Inslee clarifies COVID-19 rules for farms

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Washington Gov. Jay Inslee late Tuesday clarified how farmers can comply with some requirements to keep COVID-19 from spreading among workers.

Most significantly, hand-washing stations in fields will not need running or heated water, according to the guidance. A portable container with a tap and basin to catch soapy water will suffice.

Washington Farm Bureau CEO John Stuhlmiller said the clarification on hand-washing stations relieves only one of the bureau’s concerns about the coronavirus-safety rules. Stuhlmiller said he hopes the governor’s office will issue more clarifications.

“We’re working, literally, through the list right now,” Stuhlmiller said.

Inslee’s spokeswoman said Wednesday the governor’s office will continue to take comments and clarify the requirements if needed.

Inslee issued the rules for agriculture on May 28, superseding requirements the Department of Labor and Industries set in mid-April. The additional guidance issued Tuesday came the day before the rules went into effect for farms, dairies, orchards and packing houses.

The governor’s office also clarified that workers can make their own face coverings and that a farm vehicle doesn’t have to be disinfected after each use if the same person is driving it.

United Farm Workers National Vice President Erik Nicholson, who endorsed the rules at a press conference last week with Inslee, said he would expect the governor’s office to modify the guidance as the pandemic evolves.

“I don’t see anything here objectionable,” he said. “Our focus is that as the rules go live we have widespread implementation and compliance.”

According to the governor’s proclamation, farms can’t operate past June 3 unless they meet every rule. Stuhlmiller said many growers may be unaware of the requirements, which were formed without public comment and announced six days before they went into effect.

“It’s causing us consternation. How can we protect our industry from unfair regulatory action?” Stuhlmiller said. “It’s making it really challenging to have employees.”

In normal times, hand-washing stations are required to have running water and be within 440 yards of farmworkers. Under the COVID-19 rules, the stations must be within 110 yards of workers.

With the standards for the temporary stations clarified, face coverings have risen to the top of the Farm Bureau’s remaining concerns.

All farmworkers, unless working alone, must wear face coverings at all times. Stuhlmiller said the bureau fears two consequences: more workers suffering heat stoke and farmers fined for not stopping workers from unmasking.

The Farm Bureau is also concerned about potential penalties. Inslee laid down the agricultural rules in an emergency order. Violating a governor’s order is a gross misdemeanor, a criminal offense.

The Farm Bureau’s associate director of government relations, Breanne Elsey, said farmers will have a hard time finding enough masks, hand sanitizer and other personal protection equipment to comply with the rules.

Although the guidance issued Tuesday allows workers to bring their own masks, employees still have an obligation to provide masks.

The rules also hold farmers responsible for things they can’t control, such as assuring sick workers don’t leave their homes or don’t carpool with workers they don’t live with, Elsey said.

“They’ve got a legal mess written all over this,” she said. “The clarification on the hand-washing stations helps, but I’ve got a million questions remaining.”

The rules for agriculture are among many detailed regulations the governor has proclaimed for activities. For example, family members at funerals can’t stand within 6 feet of each other, and photographers must remove from their studios “all unnecessary paper products,” such as magazines or newspapers.


Posted By: Capital Press

Posted On: June 4, 2020