OSHA Fines Smithfield Packaged Meats for ‘Failing to Protect Employees’ from COVID
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently cited Smithfield Packaged Meats Corp. for failing to protect employees from exposure to the coronavirus. OSHA proposed a $13,494 penalty, the maximum allowed by law.
Based on a coronavirus-related inspection, OSHA cited the Sioux Falls, S.D.-based company for “failing to provide a workplace free from recognized hazards that can cause death or serious harm,” OSHA said. According to the report, at least 1,294 Smithfield workers contracted COVID-19 and four employees died from the virus in spring 2020.
“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.”
According to CNN, Smithfield said it didn’t agree with the OSHA citation. The company added that it “took extraordinary measures on our own initiative” to keep employees as healthy and safe as possible.
“This OSHA citation is wholly without merit and we plan to contest it,” said Keira Lombardo, Smithfield’s executive vice president of corporate affairs and compliance.
The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, the nation’s largest meatpacking union and represents the South Dakota workers, said the penalty was too weak, CNN reported.
“How much is the health, safety and life of an essential worker worth? Based on the actions of the Trump Administration, clearly not much,” union President Marc Perrone said in a statement. “This so-called ‘fine’ is a slap on the wrist for Smithfield, and a slap in the face of thousands of American meatpacking workers who have been putting their lives on the line to help feed America since the beginning of this pandemic.”
The South Dakota plant closed in mid-April when employees fell ill and reopened in May.