Federal safety regulators reach an agreement with Smithfield Foods to settle a contested citation of the company’s coronavirus safety measures during a massive outbreak last year at the South Dakota pork processing plant
Under the agreement, Virginia-based Smithfield Foods will develop a plan to prevent infectious diseases at meatpacking plants nationwide and pay a $13,500 fine.
Smithfield’s Sioux Falls plant was one the nation’s worst COVID-19 hotspots during the early days of the pandemic. By June 16, 2020, four workers were dead and nearly 1,300 had tested positive for the virus, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. After an investigation, the federal agency said Smithfield did not do enough to space workers out or provide other safety measures such as face coverings or physical barriers.
However, the company contested that assessment and defended its actions at a time when safety precautions against COVID-19 were not clear.
Smithfield’s spokesman, Jim Monroe, said the company admitted no wrongdoing and called OSHA’s allegations “baseless.”
“Settling with OSHA and avoiding litigation allows Smithfield to continue the good relations it has with the agency, as we have the shared goal of workplace safety,” he said.
The United Food and Commercial Workers has derided the $13,500 fine as a “slap on the wrist” by the union representing employees at the plant,
Smithfield has agreed to work with third-party experts to develop a new plan to prevent diseases from spreading in plants, which will include an assessment of medical safety measures from meatpacking plants’ administration on down to personal protective equipment for workers on butchering lines.
OSHA’s regional administrator, Jennifer Rous, warned that a comprehensive plan was necessary.
“What happened at this facility was tragic and we must ensure that all steps in the agreement are followed to prevent a mass outbreak from happening again,” she said.