Smithfield appeals OSHA fine for not protecting meat plant employees from COVID-19
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has cited Smithfield Packaged Meats Corp. in Sioux Falls, SD, for failing to protect employees from exposure to the coronavirus. OSHA proposed a penalty of $13,494, the maximum allowed by law.
Based in Smithfield, VA, Smithfield Foods Inc. will appeal the fine, which spokeswoman Keira Lombardo said is “wholly without merit” because the company took”extraordinary measures” to protect employees from the COVID-19 virus. And during the pandemic, Smithfield took direction from OSHA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
But OSHA claims not enough was done to protect Smithfield employees at the Sioux Falls plant, which accounts for about 5 percent of the nation’s pork production. That production was lost during a three-week shutdown. Meat and poultry plants were put under the Defense Production Act on April 28, giving USDA extraordinary powers to have firms maintain production.
At about the same time, OSHA and CDC issued guidance to the facilities that were intended to keep employees from being infected by the virus. The Union Food and Commercial Workers Union, which represents Smithfield employees in Sioux Falls, says the OSHA fine is a “slap on the wrist.”
Four Smithfield employees in Sioux Falls died from COVID-19, and 1,294 contracted the virus. More than 7,000 are employed at the plant.
“Employers must quickly implement appropriate measures to protect their workers’ safety and health,” said OSHA Sioux Falls Area Director Sheila Stanley. “Employers must meet their obligations and take the necessary actions to prevent the spread of coronavirus at their worksite.”
OSHA guidance details proactive measures employers can take to protect workers from the coronavirus, such as social distancing measures and the use of physical barriers, face shields, and face coverings when employees are unable to physically distance at least 6 feet from each other. OSHA guidance also advises that employers should provide safety and health information through training, visual aids, and other means to communicate important safety warnings in a language their workers understand.
Smithfield has 15 business days from receipt of the citation and penalty to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
Employers with questions on compliance with OSHA standards should contact their local OSHA office for guidance and assistance at 800-321-OSHA (6742). OSHA’s coronavirus response webpage offers extensive resources for addressing safety and health hazards during the evolving coronavirus pandemic.
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA’s role is to help ensure these conditions for America’s workers by setting and enforcing standards and providing training, education, and assistance.
OSHA’s mission is to foster, promote and develop the welfare of the wage earners, job seekers, and retirees of the United States; improve working conditions; advance opportunities for profitable employment; and assure work-related benefits and rights.
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