Health

Background

Immediate ‘beep’ if farm biosecurity is ignored

A new preliminary study in Canada examines how technology used in hospitals can boost protocol compliance rates on poultry farms.

No matter the type of farm, or generally where it’s located around the world, compliance with biosecurity protocols needs improvement. Yes, it is boosted upward at the time of an outbreak, but inevitably it drops down again. Compliance is complex, noted Dr Manon Racicot, a veterinary epidemiologist at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and an adjunct professor in the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Montréal in Quebec, Canada. Dr Racicot has conducted several biosecurity studies with Dr Jean-Pierre Vaillancourt, professor in the university’s ‘Research Group on the Epidemiology of Zoonoses and Public Health.’

Smart technologies give alert when essential biosecurity protocols, like using hand sanitisers, are ignored. Photo: Henk Riswick
Smart technologies give alert when essential biosecurity protocols, like using hand sanitisers, are ignored. Photo: Henk Riswick

Compliance is boosted to some extent by holding regular on-farm training and review meetings, also if the information is presented as being important. The use of cameras can help in some instances, but Dr Racicot noted that even in situations where workers accepted them (and were used to reward and not to punish), it’s not feasible because a manager would have to carefully watch a great deal of footage. Providing adequate resources (adequate hand sanitiser, etc.) is also important in achieving biosecurity protocol compliance on farm. It is also aided by signs and other reminders, but they lose effect over time.

Instantaneous feedback using RFID

The lack of an effective solution is why Dr Racicot is studying the application of instantaneous feedback, which has been shown to be a powerful compliance tool in many settings. She recently had an RFID tag system (similar to that which is being used to monitor healthcare workers in hospitals, tracking whether they visit hand-washing stations) in a barn in Quebec.

RFID tags were placed in the personal shoes of workers, shoes they agreed to wear en route to the farm every shift during the 2-week study. Tags were also placed in farm boots. If personal shoes entered the ‘clean zone’ in the barn entry area, the system provided instant feedback by beeping (protocols were not being followed). In addition, if the hand sanitiser dispenser was not used, the system also provided a beep.

Feedback and wrong behaviour on farms

The system worked well and more studies will follow. Reflecting on where things will go, Dr Racicot said, “Research shows that you should get feedback as close as possible to the wrong behaviour, and that’s what this provides, but there is also value in feedback reports in terms of motivation. She added, “There is a programme in France where hospital workers with RFID tags in their shoes received reports by text messages about their weekly performance with using sanitiser in each room they entered. So, I’d like to investigate whether instantaneous beeps or weekly reports work best, or both. There are no studies on this.”

Dr Racicot said, “We know there is a lot of staff turnover on farms. So instant feedback might be useful, but if there is no tracking which could lead to rewards and also if we are not motivated through our performance being compared with previous weeks and other workers, it’s not going to help. From a social science perspective, it’s well established that peer comparison and incentives work.”