Brazilian meat giant JBS is set to be fined US$15,615 in the US for Covid-19-related health and safety failings at its plant in Greeley, Colorado.
The penalty was announced on Friday (11 September) by the US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) “for failing to protect employees from exposure to the coronavirus”.
JBS said it “strongly disagreed” with the citation.
The plant was closed for a period in April following an outbreak of Covid-19 amongst the workforce.
OSHA said it cited the company – which operates at the location as Swift Beef Company – based on a coronavirus-related inspection, which revealed a “violation of the general duty clause for failing to provide a workplace free from recognised hazards that can cause death or serious harm”.
The company also failed to provide an authorised employee representative with injury and illness logs in a timely manner following OSHA’s May 2020 inspection, the organisation said.
It said the penalty is the maximum allowed by law.
OSHA Denver area director Amanda Kupper said: “Employers need to take appropriate actions to protect their workers from the coronavirus. 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 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 six feet from each other. Employers are also required to maintain injury and illness logs.
JBS 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.
In a statement sent to just-food, a JBS spokesperson said: “We strongly disagree with the OSHA citation. 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. Every proposed abatement in the citation was implemented months ago in Greeley. These abatements would have been informative in February. Today, they don’t even meet our internal standards.”
“The spokesperson added: “Contrary to the allegations in the citation, the Greeley facility is in full compliance with all recommended guidance and hazard abatement. The facility has been audited and reviewed by multiple health professionals and government experts, including the CDC, local and state health departments, third-party epidemiologists, and the Department of Labor, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, who twice visited the plant during the citation period, and issued favourable reports on 20 April 2and 8 May.
“The Greeley facility has only had 14 confirmed positives in the past three and half months, representing 0.4% of our Greeley workforce, despite an ongoing community outbreak. The facility has not had a positive case in nearly seven weeks, despite more than 1,730 positives in the county and more than 33,300 positive cases in the state during the same time period.”