The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited Smithfield Packaged Meats Corp. in Sioux Falls, S.D., for failing to protect employees from exposure to the coronavirus. OSHA proposed a penalty of $13,494, the maximum allowed by law.
Based on a coronavirus-related inspection, OSHA cited the company for one violation of the general duty clause for failing to provide a workplace free from recognized hazards that can cause death or serious harm. At least 1,294 Smithfield workers contracted coronavirus, and four employees died from the virus in the spring of 2020.
"Employers must quickly implement appropriate measures to protect their workers' safety and health," says 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.
Smithfield Foods statement
Keira Lombardo, executive vice president of corporate affairs and compliance, Smithfield Foods issued the following statement in response to the citation:
"This OSHA citation is wholly without merit and we plan to contest it. After an investigation that spanned many months and encompassed the review of over 20,000 pages of documents and 60 interviews, OSHA has issued only a singular citation under its catchall 'general duty clause' for conditions that existed on and prior to March 23, 2020. This is notable because OSHA did not issue guidelines for the meatpacking industry until April 26, 2020.
"Despite this fact, we figured it out on our own. We took extraordinary measures on our own initiative to keep our employees as healthy and safe as possible so that we could fulfill our obligation to the American people to maintain the food supply. We incurred incremental expenses related to COVID-19 totaling $350 million during the second quarter alone. Ironically, OSHA then used what we had done as a model for its April 26 guidance.
"The fact is that the Sioux Falls community experienced an early spike in COVID-19 cases, which impacted our plant. We responded immediately, consulting with CDC, South Dakota Department of Health, USDA and many others. We also simultaneously and repeatedly urged OSHA to commit the time and resources to visit our operations in March and April. They did not do so.
"More than anything, the outcome of OSHA's comprehensive, full court press investigation of our Sioux Falls, SD facility validates the aggressive and comprehensive manner in which we have protected the health and safety of our employees amid the pandemic. Again, the citation is wholly without merit and we plan to contest it."
Source: U.S. Department of Labor and Smithfield Foods, which is solely responsible for the information provided, and wholly owns the information. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset.