After multiple outbreaks of COVID-19 at the Harmony Beef meat processing plant in East Balzac, the company has taken steps to prevent further cases of the virus moving forward.
“The truth of the matter is Harmony has been a North American industry leader in terms of putting in safety measures,” said Crosbie Cotton, a spokesperson for the company. “We have even developed an app that updates for our employees every morning.”
According to Cotton, the app allows employees to fill in daily health screening questions to determine if they should show up to work or not.
In addition to the app, the company has implemented temperature checks at the entrance, set up Plexiglas dividers and reorganized the plant to allow for better social distancing among employees.
Cotton said these measures have helped the plant be free of COVID-19 infections “for several months now.”
“We put in most of the measures before we even had outbreaks,” he said. “The issues we had tended to follow long weekends, where people are out in their communities with friends and family.”
In early May last year, the facility suffered its first official outbreak of COVID-19. During one of chief medical health officer Dr. Deena Hinshaw’s briefings, she said 37 cases were confirmed at the meat processing facility.
A second outbreak at the plant occurred in August 2020, when more than 60 cases of the virus were reported. The plant was again listed on Nov. 4, 2020 with another outbreak, and was still listed on the Alberta government’s source of COVID-19 outbreaks as recently as last week.
Despite increased health and safety protocols, warehouse facilities in East Balzac have been hotbeds for COVID-19 outbreaks. Other than Harmony Beef, facilities in the area currently listed on the Alberta government’s source of outbreaks include the Wal-Mart logistics centre, the Amazon Fulfilment Centre, the Sobeys distribution centre and Dexterra Group.
Representatives of these companies couldn't be reached for comment, despite multiple efforts.
Cotton said since the outbreaks at Harmony Beef, employees have all gotten on board with new health measures to keep each other healthy. He said the company even went as far as removing smoking breaks, as that is when employees would usually gather closely.
“There was some nervousness with people going outside and gathering and possibly not social distancing,” he said. “Not one stone has been left unturned in the efforts we have taken to try and protect employees.”
He said employees can ask for free Nicorette gum or patches to substitute for smoking breaks.
“We pay for smoking sensation drugs for anybody who wants them,” he said.
Cotton said while the company has experienced numerous outbreaks since the onset of the pandemic, people who work there care about improving the conditions and are trying to ensure they don’t land on the provincial outbreak list again.
“When we did have an outbreak in one part of the plant, employees from another part of the plant volunteered to take over their jobs until they were able to return,” he said. “A total volunteer effort kept the plant running. Everybody has bought in.
“We will continue to protect our employees in any way possible,” he added. “Any option that is brought to us, we will look at."