Ticket to Ride

Tracking disease
Treena Hein
Thursday, 22 August 2013
By Treena Hein
 The study used a combination of visible and hidden cameras, as well as audits.
The study used a combination of visible and hidden cameras, as well as audits. Jean-Pierre Vaillancourt and colleagues
It sounds extreme, but it’s really true. The only thing that could stand between disease on your farm and an industry outbreak is one person. Only one visit to a poultry farm where biosecurity protocols aren’t followed to the letter can lead to industry reputation damage, economic hardship and worse.

Researchers have found that compliance with biosecurity protocols is not always complete, and the reasons for this span from lack of knowledge and comprehension about the how’s and why’s to personality traits and ineffective or absent education programs.

There may also be inadequate physical set-up in the barn that actually impedes producers and their employees from using protocols every time. This usually means a lack of room or space, proper signage, barriers and supplies.

These are the findings of Manon Racicot, Jean-Pierre Vaillancourt and their colleagues, who are leaders in the study of farm biosecurity protocol compliance in Canada.

Racicot is a veterinary epidemiologist working for the Office of Animal Biosecurity within the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and Vaillancourt is a professor in the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Montreal, and director of the university’s Epidemiology of Zoonoses and Public Health research group.

With their colleagues, they have published numerous research papers examining to what extent poultry producers in Quebec, their employees and farm visitors comply with biosecurity measures when entering and exiting poultry barns – and to put it bluntly, they’ve found that it can be very low.

Compliance Issues
The good news is that they have also unearthed the factors behind why compliance doesn’t occur, and what needs to be put in place for protocols to be carried out correctly each and every time. To do their research, they employed a combination of hidden cameras, visible cameras and frequent audits.

Their most recent studies have been on Quebec farms, covering 15 broiler, six layer and one breeder farm.

Vaillancourt says he’s found biosecurity compliance to be a bit better on breeder farms than on broiler/layer farms.

“Biosecurity on layer farms is more likely to be better than on broiler farms, because layer farms have the chickens for a longer time and biosecurity is therefore more critical.”

He notes that while 23 farms might seem like a low number and thus not a representative sample, over 2,300 visits were measured, which in his mind is a significant sample size.

Vaillancourt says the results are definitely representative of what occurs across Canada, and he has seen similar results in Ontario, North Carolina, France, Mexico, and other locations. He notes that “everywhere I have consulted, I observe the same problem [of low biosecurity compliance].”

Personality Matters
In one recent study that involved industrial psychologist André Durivage, the researchers asked 114 workers and farm owners (involved in a total of 2379 filmed visits on 23 Quebec poultry farms), fill out a personality test.

“We found that three personality traits seem to be important in compliance: responsibility, complexity and action-oriented,” says Racicot.

Not surprisingly, people who scored high on “responsibility” followed biosecurity guidelines and those who scored low for this trait are more likely to defy authority and ignore rules. The trait of “complexity” relates to approaching life with logic and rationality, and those who score high with this trait are more likely to use complex strategies to solve problems, which is needed to correctly apply biosecurity measures. “Action-oriented” folk tend to evaluate options before making risky decisions, react quickly to constraints in their environment, and act energetically when faced with tasks to accomplish and challenges to overcome.

In contrast, people who score low with action orientation tend to take unnecessary risks, which often leads
to mistakes.

“This trait information can be used in hiring practices,” notes Racicot. “So, in selecting a poultry barn manager or worker to hire, you should try to determine whether or not the applicants display these traits by asking questions about their past demonstration, general tendencies and attitudes and so on.”  

Poor biosecurity compliance may also be related to unwillingness.

“Errors can be intentional or unintentional,” she says. “Intentional errors seem to be related to beliefs and attitudes, like when a visitor reports in the logbook that he put on coveralls, although he did not.”

Error Effect
Unintentional errors are related to lack of understanding – for example, donning coveralls in the contaminated area, and not applying the protocol properly. This might include dropping farm coveralls in the contaminated area but still putting them on for the barn visit, or not using footbaths properly. There may also be spatial challenges to compliance, she notes.

Racicot says the main non-compliance issue she and her colleagues have observed is a lack of respect of the contaminated and clean areas.

“Having sufficient space to change boots and clothing without cross-contamination is very important,” she explains.

All the farms that she and her colleagues visited had clearly marked hygiene barriers (defined demarcation zones for the changing of footwear, such as a bench) but ignoring these areas remained the most frequent error. How much these areas were ignored seems to depend on the type of demarcation, duration of the visit and of course, if someone is watching.

“Generally, when the visit was short (less than 17 minutes), errors were more frequent,” Racicot notes.

“Therefore, growers should be aware of people coming in for short visits (or looking for the farm managers) because they may be less likely to comply with things like signing the logbook and donning boots and coveralls.”

Not surprisingly, when there was a red line or footbath, ignoring of clean and contaminated areas was more frequent than if the demarcation were a bench or door.

The researchers also found that not changing boots was the second most frequent error, and Racicot says this is likely because individuals did not understand the potential of disease transmission by footwear.

The third most frequent error observed was related to hand washing.

Besides hands, clothing is also an important potential source of contamination that the researchers found is being neglected.

“Lots of microbes – Mycoplasma gallisepticum, iowae, and synoviae for example – can survive on cotton for two to six days,” Racicot explains.

“However, few farms that we studied required coveralls. And when they did, this measure was often neglected.”

Lastly, despite the fact that the logbook was clearly visible and accessible, almost 70 per cent of visits were not recorded.

“A logbook allows for a rapid and effective traceback of visitors in the case of an outbreak, and contributes to the control and eradication of diseases,” Racicot says. “Not having it filled in correctly is a serious biosecurity risk.”

What works and what doesn’t
Racicot and her colleagues have found that visible cameras don’t work to increase compliance; they only work on a short-term basis.

“Where there was a camera visible in the barn entrance, it enhanced overall short term visit compliance and more specifically boot and area compliance, but that did not last,” she notes.

“Six months later, compliance significantly declined.” Audits, she adds, also have no impact on compliance, as everyone is careful to do things perfectly during an audit … and tend to go back to their old habits afterward.

In terms of what works to significantly boost biosecurity compliance, Racicot says the first thing to understand is that there must be several corrective actions taken. No one action will solve the problem.

Here’s what to do
  1. Educate every employee and remind him or her often that biosecurity is important. Of particular importance is emphasizing that biosecurity measures must be applied with the same rigor, no matter the length of the visit or when it occurs. They should consider the area a potential biohazard zone at all times.
  2. Demonstrate how to apply all protocols to make sure employees know how to do them correctly. Have them demonstrate regularly that they know how.
  3. Identify highly compliant employees, recognize their excellence and have them train others.
  4. Revisit biosecurity protocols several times throughout the year.
  5. Change the barn entrance to help everyone follow protocols properly and replace the demarcation lines with a simple bench or wall and door. Please make sure there is enough space for at least two people to complete protocols in the change area, and that there is enough equipment (hand washing products, boots, coveralls, etc.) and position it within easy reach. If the entrance area is not large enough for this, and/or to frame a wall and put in a door, a renovation is required.
  6. Post checklists on each door leaving the biosecurity area so that employees can check off their actions.
  7. Visitors should be educated on the spot about protocols and supervised to make sure they are followed.
  8. Keep all barn access doors locked at all times.

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