Many Olymel workers returned to their jobs on Thursday morning as slaughter operations geared up at the hog processing plant that had been closed for two weeks to curb COVID-19 spread.
Cutting room operations will start up on Friday.
Reopening can occur because Olymel management and the regulators are satisfied that employees can return to the plant safely, the company said in a statement.
Full plant inspections by experts from Alberta Health Services, Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) and Environmental Public Health (EPH) were done on Monday and Wednesday.
“AHS made several recommendations aimed at adjusting and reinforcing certain measures that were already in place and gave the green light to gradually resume operations,” the company says.
Worker groups at Olymel began being called in for training sessions on Wednesday.
These sessions covered all implemented health measures, Olymel said in a release, adding, changes were made to some of them, and an action plan was developed for reopening.
Additional staff has already been assigned to monitor and enforce these measures. The company states that social distancing protocols have been further adjusted and enhanced, “in particular through the addition of physical space.”
Health and safety meetings between management and union representatives are scheduled daily.
Alberta Health Services has warned that the coronavirus is still spreading and that everyone is at risk of contracting it, whether in the community or otherwise. “Accordingly, they recommend the utmost vigilance.”
Although 1,370 employees at the Red Deer plant have been tested since January 1, 2021, AHS experts will be on site when operations resume and will offer rapid testing to anyone who has not tested positive and wishes to be tested.
The company pledges to continue working with AHS and OHS in order to fight the spread of the coronavirus.
“Olymel management is pleased to confirm that most of the employees who have had COVID-19 since the outbreak began have recovered.” The company states that it wishes a speedy recovery to those still affected.
For the three employees who have died after testing positive for COVID-19, the company offers “deepest condolences to their families, friends, and coworkers, and remains available to help them through this trying time.”
Olymel stated that it took advantage of the plant closure to update and reinforce the many health and safety measures that were already in place at the plant, working with a task force that Alberta Health Services formed to support the company in planning a safe gradual reopening.
Olymel’s plant supply teams are in contact with Alberta hog farmers to plan the gradual resumption of deliveries.
“Since the temporary closure of the Red Deer plant, Olymel had made the necessary decisions to manage the flow of pigs from its own farms in order to facilitate a return to normal when operations resumed.”