The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (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. The fine was the maximum amount allowed by law.
According to The Denver Post, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, there have been 290 confirmed employee cases to date, 3 probable cases and the six reported deaths of plant employees. JBS contends that the plant has recorded 14 new cases in the last 3-1/2 months and none within the last seven weeks.
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.
JBS Foods has 15 business days from receipt of the citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
The Denver Post reports that JBS USA, in a statement Friday night, said “the OSHA citation is entirely without merit. It attempts to impose a standard that did not exist in March as we fought the pandemic with no guidance. When OSHA finally provided guidance in late April, one month after the beginning of the citation time period, our previously implemented preventive measures largely exceeded any of their recommendations.”
Again, the North American Meat Institute has released a statement accusing the agency of “revisionism.” It also criticized an article by the Washington Post that covered the relatively small amounts of the fines issued to JBS and Smithfield Foods. The Institute noted that OSHA cites the companies for not requiring their employees to wear masks, on dates prior to OSHA and CDC issuing mask guidelines.
“[Journalist Kim] Kindy and Region 8 have taken the easy way out,” stated the Meat Institute. “It is easy to issue a quick fine and write the story of ‘big company gets small fine,’ when in reality, the story is big company faces unprecedented public health crisis, at a time of great unknowns and conflicting advice in an attempt to make the food on which our nation relies.”
Sources: OSHA, Denver Post, Washington Post, North American Meat Institute