OSHA Ripped Over Small COVID-19 Fines for Meatpackers

Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., left, elbow bumps Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia

OSHA has cited JBS Foods Inc. in Greeley, Colorado, for failing to protect employees from exposure to the coronavirus. OSHA proposed $15,615 in penalties.

Based on a coronavirus-related inspection, OSHA cited the company – which operates as Swift Beef Company – for a violation of the general duty clause for failing to provide a workplace free from recognized hazards that can cause death or serious harm. The penalty assessed for the general duty clause violation is the maximum allowed by law. The company also failed to provide an authorized employee representative with injury and illness logs in a timely manner following OSHA’s May 2020 inspection.

“Employers need to take appropriate actions to protect their workers from the coronavirus,” said OSHA Denver Area Director Amanda Kupper. “OSHA has meatpacking industry guidance and other resources to assist in worker protection.”

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. Employers are also required to maintain injury and illness logs.

OSHA is taking more heat after it fined JBS USA only $15,615 for failing to protect workers from Covid-19 exposure at the company’s Greeley, Colo., beef plant. JBS USA is a leading processor of beef, pork and prepared foods in the U.S. and Canada .The outbreak led to eight deaths and infected more than 200, according to the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, which says the proposed penalty, following a similar fine for Smithfield Foods, shows federal authorities refuse to hold meat companies accountable for safeguarding employees from the coronavirus. OSHA says the penalty is the maximum allowed, though worker advocates have said the agency could assess penalties for each individual worker sickened or killed. JBS’s US beef and pork operations generated $7.3B in sales in the latest quarter.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report estimates that between April and May of 2020, there were 16,233 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in meatpacking plants across the country in around 239 facilities. Of these cases, 87% occurred in “racial or ethnic minorities” the report found. Likewise, a high percentage of workers are “people of color, immigrants, and other disproportionately affected groups.” “The ideal end result would be for  OSHA to take immediate steps to protect the workers in the plant”.

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