Smithfield, OSHA agree on infectious disease plan creation

Smithfield Packaged Meats Corp. has agreed to create a team of internal and third-party experts to develop an infectious disease preparedness plan as part of a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL).

Collage of Flu COVID-19 virus cells in blood under the microscop
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Settlement between Smithfield and the US Department of Labor will create a team of experts to develop infectious disease preparedness plan and health training

Smithfield Packaged Meats Corp. has agreed to create a team of internal and third-party experts to develop an infectious disease preparedness plan as part of a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL).

The company’s agreement to change its health procedures and training related to infectious diseases comes after it was cited last year by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for failure to protect employees from exposure to COVID-19 at its Sioux Falls, South Dakota, facility. OSHA subsequently cited Smithfield under the general duty clause and Smithfield has agreed to pay the assessed penalty of US$13,494.

In spring 2020, the company closed its Sioux Falls plant for 25 days in an effort to contain a COVID-19 outbreak. By June 16, 2020, 1,294 Smithfield workers had tested positive for COVID-19 and four died, according to the DOL.

“The terms of this settlement are intended to ensure that Smithfield employees receive the training and protective measures necessary to protect them from exposure to the infectious diseases at their facilities,” said OSHA’s Regional Administrator Jennifer Rous in a statement. “What happened at this facility was tragic and we must ensure that all steps in the agreement are followed to prevent a mass outbreak from happening again.”

Under the terms of the agreement, Smithfield will continue to use its current COVID-19 Preparedness and Response Plan to reduce employees’ exposure to the coronavirus while working with third-party experts to assess plants’ operating procedures and develop the infectious disease preparedness plan. Smithfield must evaluate work areas and other areas where employees congregate to minimize employees’ potential exposure to infectious diseases.

The team of third-party experts and company representatives will also:

  • Review Smithfield’s existing programs and procedures.
  • Evaluate plant administrative and engineering controls.
  • Identify personal protective equipment and respiratory protection needs.
  • Address medical management functions through the facility’s on-site clinic, and identify issues associated with continuity of operations.
  • Train and implement program requirements in languages and at literacy levels that the workforce understands. Any written materials provided must also be in languages employees understand.

After development of its infectious disease preparedness plan, Smithfield agreed to review the plan and revise it as necessary to address potential new infectious diseases and guidance from federal, state and local public health authorities, as well as review annual union feedback on the plan and its procedures.

In an emailed statement, a Smithfield spokesperson said the company settled the dispute with OSHA “in a way that admits to no wrongdoing and sets the company up to continue to be a leader in infectious disease safety.”

The company said it implemented worker safety measures in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, even before it received direction from health officials.

“The company collaborated with the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and OSHA to help identify what the industry could do to mitigate the spread of the virus in its facilities. In fact, when public health officials finally released guidance, Smithfield had already implemented almost all of the recommendations,” the statement said. “Despite Smithfield’s early and aggressive measures, OSHA cited the company for actions taken in March 2020 — just as the pandemic was becoming a reality. Smithfield was, and remains, confident that OSHA’s allegations of non-compliance with OSHA were baseless and we appealed the citation through proper procedural means.”

Smithfield said the settlement allows it to avoid litigation so it can continue its good relations with OSHA and their shared goal of workplace safety.

“We are happy to put this behind us and have focused our resources on efforts to vaccinate our entire workforce,” the spokesperson said.

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