OSHA Settlement to Lead to Infectious Disease Preparedness Plan for Meat Processing Plants
On May 27, OSHA announced that it had reached a settlement with four affiliates and subsidiaries of food processing company JBS Foods USA. The terms of the agreement stipulate that the JBS subsidiaries and affiliates must work to reduce employee exposures to COVID-19 by following an updated “Safe Work Playbook” and forming a team of company representatives and third-party experts who will assess operations at JBS meat processing plants and assist in developing and implementing an infectious disease preparedness plan. Seven facilities located in Colorado, Illinois, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin will be affected.
“This settlement is intended to ensure that, going forward, protective measures are in place to protect workers at these facilities from COVID-19 and from other infectious diseases as well,” said Jennifer Rous, OSHA’s regional administrator in Denver, Colorado.
The newly formed team will include subject-matter experts recommended by OSHA and the United Foods and Commercial Workers Union, which represents workers at the affected facilities. In addition to evaluating work areas and areas where employees congregate to limit potential infectious disease exposures, the team’s responsibilities will also include reviewing JBS’ existing programs and procedures, including the company’s occupational health system; evaluating and providing recommendations for controls, including ventilation, screening protocols, and cleaning; identifying personal protective equipment and respiratory protection needs; and addressing occupational health issues related to infectious disease prevention and response.
Following the development of the infectious disease plan, each facility will designate an administrator to implement and monitor the plan, and JBS will provide health and safety training in languages and literacy levels that plant employees can understand.
Two of the JBS subsidiaries participating in the settlement—Swift Beef Co. in Greely, Colorado, and JBS Green Bay Inc., in Green Bay, Wisconsin—were cited for failing to protect workers from COVID-19 following two inspections in April and May 2020. The Greely plant shut down on April 12, 2020, due to a COVID-19 outbreak and reopened 14 days later, but by July 20, 2020, the outbreak had led to five workers’ deaths, 51 hospitalizations, and 290 confirmed positive cases. The Green Bay plant likewise shut down from April 26 through May 6, 2020, but by Aug. 12, 357 positive COVID-19 cases had been confirmed and two workers had died. In addition to following the settlement terms, these subsidiaries will also pay a combined penalty of $14,502 to OSHA.
For more information, read OSHA’s press release.
Related: Journalists from USA TODAY and the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting appeared at Virtual AIHce EXP 2021 to share the story of meatpacking workers who bore the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic.