Communications breakdown at Cedar

AMIC head says body will learn from Cedar coronavirus cluster

COMMUNICATIONS KEY: Australian Meat Industry Council chief executive Patrick Hutchinson says clear communication abou coronavirus is vital.

COMMUNICATIONS KEY: Australian Meat Industry Council chief executive Patrick Hutchinson says clear communication abou coronavirus is vital.


Breakdown in communications at COVID-19 plant, says AMIC head.


The head of Australia's peak meat industry body says a breakdown in communications appears to have contributed to what's now Victoria's biggest known outbreak of coronavirus.

Australian Meat Industry Council chief executive Patrick Hutchinson said the Cedar Meats, Brooklyn coronavirus outbreak was not an issue specific to the plant.

"There were no systematic breaches of the protocols at Cedar Meats," Mr Hutchinson said.

"What we are seeing is not an industry issue; it's not a plant issue; it's a community issue.

"With Cedar Meats, the communications lines seem to have been broken, or not to have been connected in the first place."

Late last week, the Victorian government confirmed another eight cases of coronavirus, connected to Cedar Meats, bringing the total number of infections to 71.

Cedar Meats processes and sells mutton, lamb, goat and veal to the European Union, North and South America, south-east Asia, China, the Middle East and Africa.

The company has only a minimal share of the domestic market.

CORONAVIRUS CLUSTER: Cedar Meats, Brooklyn, is now the centre of Victoria's biggest coronavirus cluster.

CORONAVIRUS CLUSTER: Cedar Meats, Brooklyn, is now the centre of Victoria's biggest coronavirus cluster.

Mr Hutchinson said communications issues were one of the things the industry now needed to tackle.

The Victorian Department of Health and Human Services first told Cedar Meats a worker had tested postiive to coronavirus on on Monday, April 27.

A Cedar Meats spokeswoman said on April 24, the Department of Health and Human Services initiallly advised labour hire firm Labour Solutions Australia one of the workers it supplied to Cedar Meats had tested positive to coronavirus.

DHHS left it up to Labour Solutions to relay the message to Cedar Meats.

The department did not directly get in touch with Cedar Meats, until April 27, when another worker tested positive.

Cedar Meats confirmed it had been informed of the potential case on April 24, in a call made that Friday evening, when the plant was closed.

The spokeswoman said the call was diverted to a manager, who "got the impression" it wasn't a positive COVID-19 outcome

The caller from Labour Solutions Australia advised the manager the worker "only thought" they had coronavirus, the spokeswoman said.

Read more:

State government defends not naming coronavirus meatworks

Health Department advice saw Cedar shut down

Cedar Meats planning to reopen soon

Communications issues

Mr Hutchinson said lessons would be learned from the Cedar Meats outbreak.

"I am working with my team in updating our industry and our membership guidelines around these areas," he said.

."I think what we have to do is rather than explain through blame, we need to learn through experience, and that's what we are doing.

"We take learnings from every single issue we are faced with, whether that be on the international, or domestic, stage.

He rejected suggestions by Victoria's Chief Health Officer, Brett Sutton, that the sector was particularly vulnerable.

"I would probably say that each plant is different," he said.

"It's different in its physical structure, it's different in the markets its products go to, it's different in its processing, it's different in the makeup of its employee structure."

He said Cedar Meats had been following the protocols, recommended by the industry and governments.

Meanwhile, the Victorian government has revealed WorkSafe inspectors have been actively monitoring the state's abattoirs, as part of their role in checking all sites the organisation is responsible for.

Every initial workplace visit now includes an assessment of COVID-19 preparedness, in line with expert advice from the DHHS and recommendations made by the Victorian Chief Health Officer.

"The CHO is responsible for setting public health requirements under State of Emergency provisions, including physical distancing measures that apply to workplaces," Agriculture Minister Jaclyn Symes said.

"It's the responsibility of employers and individual employees to ensure they comply with the direction of the CHO.."

Inspectors were checking to ensure workers maintained social distancing, wherever possible, avoided sharing tools and equipment, had access to hygiene products and were provided with appropriate personal protective equipment.

Perfect handling

Victoria's Health Minister Jenny Mikakos said the Cedar Meats outbreak had been handled perfectly.

"I'm absolutely confident that [the Health Department] have done everything possible to contain this outbreak,' Ms Mikakos said.

"I agree with [Commonwealth Chief Medical officer] Professor Brendan Murphy that it was expertly controlled because they have taken all the appropriate steps working with the business as soon as the cluster was identified."

But the Victorian branch of the Australiasian Meat Industry Employees Union said it had concerns about the safety practices, at Cedar Meats.

"We have been informed that the company had in place employee temperature devices, hand sanitation and other preventative measures," the AMIEU said, in a statement.

"The outbreak shows that this is not sufficient.

"The AMIEU is willing to work with Cedar Meats to reach agreement on the necessary controls including physical distancing, appropriate barriers where practicable, work processes, personal protective equipment and vaccinations, if, and when they become available."

The statement said the AMIEU had been keeping a close watch on the coronavirus pandemic, around the world.

"As food production is an essential service we have been extremely concerned to see the meat industry hot spots in the USA and Canada and the deaths of meat workers," the statement said.

"There are, however, significant differences between the processes in the USA and many workplaces in Australia.

"One major difference is that the AMIEU has fought for many years for physical distancing between workers."

The union said social distancing was not only necessary for infection control but also to reduce the risk of lacerations.

Information provided by Cedar Meats seemed to indicate the company had applied for Jobkeeper.

'The employment mix is one of permanent employees, employed by Cedar Meats or Sprinter Foods and labour-hire workers, hired through Labour Solutions Australia," the union said.

At the time of the outbreak, there were very few, any, visa workers on site.

Labour Solutions Australia has been contacted for comment.

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