The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued a number of citations to food companies for failing to protect workers from COVID-19. The food industry workforce has been identified as having an elevated risk of exposure to the virus. Citations were issued to food processors, meatpackers, agricultural entities, and retailers.

September 4, 2020
Citations issued by: California’s Department of Industrial Relations (CAL)/OSHA
What Happened
Eleven employers were cited for not protecting employees from COVID-19 exposure during inspections. They did not take steps to update their workplace safety plans to properly address hazards related to the virus.

Inspection Types
Complaint-initiated; accident-initiated; enforcement effort. Some were classified as serious, with proposed penalties ranging from $2,025 to $51,190

Examples of Violations

  • Failure to practice social distancing in processing areas
  • Failure to install Plexiglass or other barriers between workers
  • Failure to screen employees and visitors arriving at the facility
  • Failure to take appropriate measures for employees who exhibited COVID symptoms while at work

“We have identified these industries as priorities in our strategic enforcement efforts to make sure employers have adequate COVID-19 infection prevention procedures in place,” says CAL/OSHA chief Doug Parker. “These are industries where workers have been disproportionately affected, and these citations are the first of many to be issued in the coming weeks and months.”

September 9, 2020
Citation issued by: California’s Department of Industrial Relations (CAL)/OSHA
What Happened
Citations were issued to Overhill Farms Inc., a frozen food manufacturer, (and their temporary employment agency, Jobsource North America Inc.) A $222,075 penalty for Overhill Farms and a $214,080 penalty for Jobsource were proposed for each party’s role in failing to protect hundreds of employees from COVID at two plants. (An additional $14,450 penalty for Overhill Farms was proposed for non-COVID related violations.)

CAL/OSHA found hundreds of employees were exposed to serious illness from COVID-19 due to the lack of physical distancing procedures among workers including where they clock in and out of their shift, at the cart where they put on gloves and coats, in the break room, on the conveyor line, and during packing operations. At the larger of the two facilities CAL/OSHA identified 330 employees at Overhill Farms and 60 Jobsource employees were exposed to the virus from the lack of physical distancing. At the smaller facility, CAL/OSHA found 80 Overhill Farms workers and 40 Jobsource workers did packing operations, worked in the marinating area and processed raw poultry without any distancing procedures or protective barriers in place.

Inspection type: Complaint-initiated
Examples of Violations

  • Failure to install barriers or implement social distancing procedures
  • Failure to train employees on virus hazards
  • Failure to investigate more than 20 employees’ COVID infections, including one death that went unreported to OSHA.

“It is critical that employers evaluate the workplace and take proactive measures to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 in the workplace,” said Cal/OSHA Chief Doug Parker. “If a COVID-19 illness occurs, employers must investigate the case to determine if additional protective measures should be taken and report the serious illnesses and deaths to Cal/OSHA.  Employers should also notify workers of possible exposure and report outbreaks to county public health officials.”

September 10, 2020
Citation issued by: OSHA
What Happened
Smithfield Packaged Meats (Sioux Falls, SD) was cited for failing to protect employees from exposure to the coronavirus. At least 1,294 Smithfield workers contracted coronavirus, and four employees died from the virus in the spring of 2020. OSHA proposed a penalty of $13,494, the maximum allowed by law. 

Inspection type: Coronavirus-related inspection
Example of Violation

  • Failure to provide a workplace free from recognized hazards that can cause death or serious harm

“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.”

CAL/OSHA has created guidance for many industries in multiple languages including videos, daily checklists and detailed guidelines on how to protect workers from the virus. This guidance is meant to provide a roadmap for employers on their existing obligations to protect workers from COVID-19.