The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has cited JBS Foods in Greeley, Colorado, for failing to protect employees from exposure to COVID-19, and proposed $15,615 in penalties, according to a department release.
OSHA cited the company, following a coronavirus-related inspection, 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 proposed penalty is the maximum amount allowed by law under the general duty clause. The release also says that JBS failed provide an authorized employee representative with injury and illness logs in a timely manner following OSHA’s May 2020 inspection.
The department has guidance specific to the meat packing industry that details proactive measures employers can take to protect their employees from the coronavirus, such as social distancing measures, use of physical barriers, face shields and masks. It also requires that employers maintain injury and illness logs.
JBS Foods disputes OSHA’s claims in a statement from Cameron Bruett, head of corporate affairs for JBS USA & Pilgrim’s.
“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. 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,” Bruett says.
“We have implemented hundreds of interventions to protect our workforce, including screening all employees prior to entering the facility, staggering start times and break times, requiring the use of masks and face shields, erecting physical barriers, installing UV germicidal air sanitation and plasma bipolar ionization technologies to neutralize potential viruses, and removing vulnerable populations from our facilities with full pay and benefits. We also conduct random, routine surveillance testing of asymptomatic team members, which has resulted in zero positives to date, to ensure our preventive measures remain effective as the pandemic continues,” he continues.
Bruett also says that the Greeley facility is in compliance with all recommended hazard abatements, and has been audited by the CDC, local and state health departments, third-party epidemiologists and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, which visited the facility twice in the citation period and issued favorable reports.
“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,” Bruett says. “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.”
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.