The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited Smithfield Packaged Meats Corp. in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, for failing to protect employees from exposure to the coronavirus (COVID-19). The agency proposed a penalty of $13,494 for a single violation, which is the maximum allowed by law.
COVID-19 is a respiratory disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. It has become widespread since a pandemic was declared in March and is considered a recognized workplace health hazard.
Following a COVID-19-related inspection, OSHA cited the company for one violation of the General Duty Clause for failing to provide a workplace free from recognized hazards that can cause death or serious harm. At least 1,294 Smithfield workers contracted COVID-19, and 4 employees died from the virus in spring 2020, according to the agency.
“Employers must quickly implement appropriate measures to protect their workers’ safety and health,” OSHA Sioux Falls Area Director Sheila Stanley said in a statement. “Employers must meet their obligations and take the necessary actions to prevent the spread of coronavirus at their worksite.”
OSHA guidance for the meatpacking industry details measures that employers can take to protect workers from COVID-19, which include social distancing measures and the use of physical barriers, as well as face shields and face coverings when employees are unable to physically distance at least 6 feet from each other. The agency guidelines also advise employers to provide safety and health information through training, visual aids, and other means to communicate important safety warnings in a language their workers understand.
While there is no federal workplace health standard for COVID-19 or SARS-CoV-2 exposure, employers must take steps to protect employees from recognized workplace hazards and can be cited under the General Duty Clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. So far, Virginia and Oregon have either enacted or proposed state emergency standards addressing COVID-19 hazards.