Meatpacking companies, OSHA face investigation over coronavirus in plants
A U.S. House subcommittee is investigating coronavirus outbreaks at meatpacking plants, citing the deaths of more than 250 employees nationwide and accusing the Trump administration of failing to enforce worker safety laws.
Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., chairman of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, sent letters requesting documents from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, part of the Department of Labor, as well as three of the country’s largest meatpacking companies: Tyson Foods, Smithfield Foods and JBS USA.
Nearly 54,000 workers at 569 plants have tested positive for COVID-19, and at least 270 have died, according to the Food and Environment Reporting Network. Many meatpacking employees are Black, Hispanic and/or from low-income households, the release notes, meaning they come from vulnerable communities that have been hit disproportionately hard by the pandemic.
Most employees don’t feel totally safe at work
A study to gauge workers’ perceptions and feelings regarding the health and safety of their workplace found that most don’t feel totally comfortable being there.
Conducted by Wakefield Research, the study surveyed 2,000 workers who typically work in buildings with 500 or more employees across the United States, United Kingdom, Germany and the Middle East. Nearly one in four remote workers would look for a new job rather than return to a site that did not implement necessary safety measures.
The surveyed workers’ concerns echo the latest scientific research on the spread of COVID-19, with 56 percent of workers being more concerned about transmission through the air than through contact with a surface. In terms of what poses a bigger threat to their safety, more than 40 percent of those surveyed believe that buildings with outdated ventilation systems are more dangerous than co-workers not following safety guidelines.
To return to work and feel safer, nearly one in three surveyed workers say updates to the air quality systems are critical, but only 25 percent of those on-site have seen such updates happen. Other top health and safety measures that surveyed workers want include protocols such as social distancing or mandatory masks (49 percent), followed by health screening protocols such as temperature checks (41 percent), enhanced cleaning procedures (40 percent), touchless door entries (31 percent) and technology for contact tracing (20 percent).