DCR Health & Safety: Over 200 meat plant workers in the U.S. have died of covid-19. Federal regulators just issued two modest fines. ☕☕☕

Ayyyeee… What’s Goodie Everyone. So I got some tea and it involves Meat plant workers, Covid-19, and fines.

Federal regulators knew about safety problems in over dozens of the nation’s meat plants that became deadly coronavirus hot spots this spring but took six months to take action, citing two plants and finally requiring changes to protect workers.

Financial penalties for a Smithfield Foods plant in South Dakota and JBS plant in Colorado issued last week total about $29,000.

42,534 meatpacking workers have tested positive for the novel coronavirus in 494 meat plants, and at least 203 meatpacking workers have died since March, according to an analysis by the Food Environmental Reporting Network, a nonprofit investigative news organization.

At the Smithfield plant in Sioux Falls, S.D., 1,294 have tested positive for the coronavirus and four have died. At the JBS USA plant in Greeley, Colo., 290 have tested positive and six have died and Smithfield last year had revenue of nearly $14 billion. JBS the largest meatpacker in the world had $51.7 billion in revenue. Both companies, which operate internationally, said that the citations are “without merit,” that they will contest them and that they have already made safety improvements

Meat plant workers, union leaders and worker safety groups were outraged that the two plants, with some of the most severe outbreaks in the nation, were only cited for a total of three safety violations and that hundreds of other meat plants have faced no fines. The companies criticized federal regulators for taking so long to give them guidance on how to keep workers safe.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration said the plants failed to provide a workplace free from recognized hazards that were causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees in that employees were working in close proximity to each other and were exposed to the coronavirus.

10,000 virus related requests OSHA received to investigate workplaces in all industries since early March, Smithfield and JBS are the only ones that have so far resulted in a citation and fine. Unrelated to the complaints, OSHA issued six other virus related citations and fines for industries other than the meat industry, which resulted from routine reports the agency received from hospitals and employers about workers being hospitalized or fatally injured, records show.

The massive coronavirus outbreaks at meat plants and the lack of masks and social distancing that fueled the virus’s spread has been widely reported by media since March and April.

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