GREELEY, COLO. – On Sept. 11, the US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited Greeley, Colo.- based JBS Foods Inc., operating as Swift Beef Co., for failure to protect its employees from exposure to coronavirus (COVID-19). OSHA’s citation claimed JBS violated a general duty clause calling for a workplace free from recognized hazards that can cause serious harm or death. The penalty assessed for the general duty clause violation, $15,615, is the maximum the law allows. According to OSHA, the company also failed to provide injury and illness logs in a timely manner following the May 2020 inspection.
“Employers need to take appropriate actions to protect their workers from the coronavirus,” said Amanda Kupper, OSHA Denver Area director. “OSHA has meatpacking industry guidance and other resources to assist in worker protection.”
Cameron Bruett, head of corporate affairs for JBS USA and Pilgrim’s, maintained the citation was without merit.
“It attempts to impose a standard that did not exist in March as we fought the pandemic with no guidance,” Bruett said. “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.”
JBS can request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director, contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission or comply within 15 business days.
Smithfield, Va.-based Smithfield Foods also received an OSHA citation on Sept. 11 for failing to protect employees at Smithfield Packaged Meats Corp. in Sioux Falls, SD, from exposure to the coronavirus. Smithfield plans to contest the fines and penalties totaling $13,494, and said the citation was wholly without merit.
On Sept. 12, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) International Union representing 1.3 million workers in meatpacking plants and other essential businesses across North America, said the $15,615 fine issued to the JBS plant in Greeley was insufficient relative to the outbreak that led to eight worker deaths and more than 200 worker infections.
“The failure of the federal government to protect American workers and our nation’s food supply has reached new lows,” said Marc Perrone, president of UFCW International. “With this latest ‘so-called fine,’ OSHA and the Department of Labor prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that they do not care about holding irresponsible corporations accountable for the lives lost or worker safety.”