Our world has changed a lot since the last time I penned a column in this publication.
The spread of COVID-19 across our country has been rapid and serious, and our governments and health authorities have taken significant action to slow the spread of the virus and protect our lives.
At present, we are all experiencing significant levels of disruption to our routines, work, family and social lives. For those in regional communities, that disruption and unease has come on top of years of drought and significant stress.
I wanted to take the opportunity to let you know what Cotton Australia is doing to ensure our team is safe, that our work continues as best as possible, and that our industry gets through this crisis.
First and foremost, Cotton Australia strongly urges people in our industry, and the community at large, to strictly adhere to the regulations and health advice of the government around COVID-19.
We must all play our part in slowing the spread of this virus. We must all practice social distancing. We must all stay home unless necessary.
We must all maintain excellent hygiene and wash our hands regularly. We must all make sacrifices - such as not seeing friends and family - for the benefit of all Australians.
I cannot emphasise this enough. COVID-19 can, and is, impacting regional communities. No city or town is immune from this virus, and we in rural areas and on farms must not become complacent. We must play our part and observe the rules that have been carefully put in place.
There is a significant amount of information in the public sphere about this pandemic, and for the community, finding the right information relevant to your situation can be complicated. That is why Cotton Australia has developed a webpage for our growers dedicated to sharing information from official sources about the pandemic.
Growers can visit cottonaustralia.com.au/covid19 to find a series of links to important information sources, including government health advice, government advice for employers, information on stimulus packages, and information on transport border restrictions. These links direct readers to the official government sources, where those pages will be updated as the situation changes.
We are at the point in our cotton season where many growers (who were fortunate enough to grow cotton this year) are either picking, or planning and preparing for their winter crops. That in turn means contractors will likely be arriving on farm, which has caused concern for some growers because of the risks posed by COVID-19.
With that in mind, we have collated a series of dot points around what growers should do to ensure the health and safety of their families and workers in the event of a contractor coming onto the property for the work. Those points are on our COVID-19 webpage, but some of the main pieces of advice include:
- Requesting all contractors make contact prior to them entering your property, so you have an opportunity to consider and manage any risks.
- Ensuring your farm has solid protocols in place to manage risk, and that those protocols are strictly observed.
- Knowing where both new and current workers/contractors have been for the previous 14 days.
- Confirming workers have not had a fever, cough, sore throat or shortness of breath in the last 72 hours and are otherwise well and fit for work.
- Ensuring workers maintain a distance of at least 1.5 metres from other workers. All unnecessary interpersonal interaction must cease.
- Providing alcohol-based cleaning products and instructions for cleaning surfaces, and maintaining hygiene and ensuring hand washing facilities are adequately stocked with liquid soap and paper towel.
- Sanitising all machinery and vehicles before and after use.
- Ensuring sleeping quarters are appropriately cleaned between change-over of workers.
- Isolating workers who become ill with respiratory symptoms and supporting them with access to medical assistance.
- Immediately isolating anyone potentially exposed to COVID-19.
The coming months will continue to be a challenge for us all. At a global level, we are monitoring what impact the pandemic will have on the world cotton price and what ramifications that has on our industry.
For our Cotton Australia team, we took the early, swift decision to have them work from home wherever possible until further notice, to ensure their health and safety.
This move was in line with professional advice for social distancing to be carried out and for non-essential travel to be reduced. Our team are still accessible through phone, video conference and email, and our operations will carry on as effectively and comprehensively as is possible during this unprecedented period.
I wish you all the best during this COVID-19 pandemic. The year 2020 has certainly presented us all with a raft of challenges; but I am confident that if we all follow the guidance we have been given by government and health authorities, we will give ourselves the best chance to successfully navigate this crisis, together.