On August 14, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and North American Meat Institute (Meat Institute) announced an alliance agreement to provide guidance, information, and access to training resources for protecting workers in the meatpacking and processing industry from exposures to the coronavirus.
Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a respiratory illness caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. COVID-19 currently is widespread in most U.S. communities and considered a workplace hazard.
The Meat Institute represents the meat and poultry industry, including beef, pork, lamb, and poultry processors.
The 2-year alliance will focus on developing information on recognizing coronavirus transmission risks and best practices for preventing transmission and understanding the challenges for exposure control in meatpacking and processing facilities. It also will include OSHA on-site consultation and other compliance assistance and outreach efforts.
Any best practices developed on preventing transmission will be disseminated to employees through print and electronic media, by electronic assistance tools, and on the OSHA and Meat Institute websites. The Meat Institute will encourage its members to contact OSHA regional and area offices, as well as state plan agencies, for compliance assistance or on-site consultation.
“Together, OSHA and the North American Meat Institute can help ensure that employers in this critical industry have the tools and information they need to protect workers from the risk of the coronavirus,” Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Loren Sweatt said in an agency statement.
“We look forward to working with OSHA to continue our work to protect the health and safety of the men and women who work in meat and poultry facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic and thereafter,” Meat Institute President and CEO Julie Anna Potts said in a statement.
COVID-19 outbreaks at 239 meat and poultry processing plants were reported in 23 states in April and May, according to an early Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report study posted on July 7 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The outbreaks resulted in 16,233 cases and 86 deaths.
The CDC recommended that meat and poultry processing facilities encourage workers to take sick leave when needed, provide culturally appropriate education materials, screen workers for possible infection, increase distances between workers, and encourage hand-washing and the use of cloth face coverings.
CDC researchers found that risk factors in the industry included prolonged close workplace contact with coworkers (within 6 feet) over 8- to 12-hour shifts, shared work spaces, shared transportation to and from the workplace, and employer housing.
The CDC and OSHA jointly issued interim guidance for meat and poultry processing facilities in late April. The CDC/OSHA recommendations included:
- Modifying the alignment of workstations, including those on processing lines, so that workers are at least 6 feet apart in all directions;
- Using physical barriers, such as plexiglass or similar material, strip curtains, or other impermeable dividers or partitions, to separate workers from each other; and
- Removing personal cooling fans to reduce the potential spread of any airborne or aerosolized viruses.