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A grower’s guide to reopening your greenhouse

Person pushing a cart in a greenhouseSpring has arrived, Mother’s Day has passed, and signs of optimism are emerging throughout the horticultural industry. Several local and state governments have allowed greenhouses to reopen, while others are contemplating phased plans for permitting businesses to open their doors in the future.

At the same time, if your greenhouse paused operations or reduced its workforce, reopening will require more than flipping your sign from closed to open. Once you’ve consulted your human resource team or employment counsel to assess your business’s ability to welcome employees back, consider how you’ll reintroduce them.

Unexpected downtime can pose new risks to your employees, equipment, and facilities. The following tips can help you manage those risks and reopen more confidently—allowing you and your employees to focus on what you do best.

Follow an objective employee reintroduction plan

The idea of reopening may inspire thoughts of crop care, preventative maintenance, and facility cleanliness, but don’t overlook the need for an objective employee reintroduction strategy.

If you plan to welcome employees back in phases, ensure your approach is thorough and based solely on legitimate, non-discriminatory business reasons necessary to your greenhouse’s operations. Businesses that stray from an impartial plan could face discrimination and harassment claims if an unintended trend develops or is perceived to exist. A member of your human resource team, or an attorney, can help guide your plan and detect potential discrimination risks.

After you finalize a plan and consult with a human resource professional or counsel, communicate your reopening plan and its criteria to employees.  Transparency and two-way communication will prove to be valuable.

Support employee reconditioning

Once you’re ready to welcome the first wave of employees on-site, help limit their injury risk. Stay-at-home orders and suspended operations may have prevented your employees from performing regular work activities in recent months. This inactive time poses a risk as your employees return to work and resume manual labor—particularly those with physically demanding roles. If your employees perform physical duties without a careful transition period, they may experience discomfort or musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) injuries.

Before reopening, consider a period of re-conditioning to prepare your employees for their regular job duties and remind them of your greenhouse’s process for reporting injuries. Once your team is on-site, ask each employee to review their daily job functions and identify which tasks require physical work. After you receive feedback, develop a plan to reduce the physical demands required of each task through staggered shifts, more scheduled break time, and a minimum of two-person teams for moving heavy objects.

As your employees continue to do their part, promote healthy behaviors to support their efforts. Show empathy and patience throughout your organization, while communicating the early warning signs associated with MSD injuries. Go the extra mile by consulting a health professional to develop a stretching program your employees can practice before performing physical tasks.

Once employees readjust to their previous workloads, gather their feedback before returning to full production. Slight caution early on can save your greenhouse and employees even more unexpected downtime in the future.

Encourage hygiene measures

In previous weeks we’ve covered the need for customer handwashing stations throughout your greenhouse. Now it’s time to consider your employees’ hygiene measures.

Greenhouses, nurseries, and vegetable growers often work on production and pack lines, which presents the risk of minimal social distancing for longer periods. If your greenhouse employs workers with H-2A visas, the transportation and housing your business provides may also pose social distancing risks related to ridesharing services, shared bedrooms, and common areas.

Remind employees to maintain at least six feet of distance between colleagues and customers when possible and consider adjustments to any services or production areas in close spaces. When you train employees on hygiene best practices, agree upon a new contact-free greeting each employee can use when speaking with customers instead of the once-popular handshake. Employees and customers should also have personal protective equipment (PPE) to use throughout your greenhouse. Place disposable wipes near any high-traffic surfaces, while also supplying enough facemasks and nitrile gloves. Finally, continue monitoring CDC, federal, state, and local guidelines for additional COVID-19 precautions regarding your business.

We know the potential for reopening your greenhouse accompanies feelings of optimism and enthusiasm, and we’re excited to be by your side every step of the way. By following a few preemptive safety guidelines, your employees and customers can step into your greenhouse with confidence their first day back. If you have questions or need more safety advice for reopening your greenhouse, visit our COVID-19 hub or contact us. We’re in this together.

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