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Chick-News.com Poultry Industry News, Comments and more by Simon M. Shane

House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis Demands Documentation from OSHA

02/03/2021

Representative James E. Clyburn (D-SC), Chairman of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis addressed a letter to James Frederick, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor responsible for OSHA, demanding documentation relating to COVID-19 outbreaks in meat packing plants during 2020. The letter from Rep. Clyburn was also addressed to JBS USA, Tyson Foods, and Smithfield Foods that collectively reported 18,500 COVID-19 diagnoses with 64 fatalities.

 

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 54,000 workers at 569 meat packing and food processing plants in the U.S. tested positive for coronavirus with 270 fatalities.  Low-income Black and Hispanic workers were disproportionately affected. The National Academy of Sciences estimates that between 236,000 to 310,000 cases of COVID-19 with 4,300 to 5,200 fatalities occurred in communities in which large meat packing plants were located during the first half of 2020.

 

The Select Subcommittee is requesting documents from both OSHA and from the three companies in order to conduct a detailed investigation regarding testing, precautions taken to prevent infection in plants, possible suppression of incidence rates and failure to cooperate with county, state, and federal health agencies.

 

The Select Subcommittee is also requesting an explanation of the apparently few citations issued and the low magnitude of penalties for apparent violations.  OSHA was also criticized for failing to establish standards and to enforce action against meat-packing companies that violated existing worker safety standards.  Previously CHICK-NEWS has pointed to the disparity in penalties imposed by the California Occupational Health and Safety Administration and the federal equivalent agency with respect to COVID-19 outbreaks where negligence was revealled.

 

The Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis was established to “conduct a full and complete investigation of issues related to the Coronavirus Crisis including the preparedness for and response to the Coronavirus crisis and executive branch policies, deliberations, decisions, activities, and internal and external communications related to the Coronavirus crisis.”

 

It is hoped that the investigation will be undertaken in a nonpartisan and non-judgemental manner to establish circumstances that contributed to high incidence rates that also were recorded in meat-packing plants in Brazil and the EU. The review should not degenerate into a witchhunt and a pre-ordained condemnation of the previous Administration. The sub-Committee activities would be the most productive by following a science-based evaluation of this serious disease in order that appropriate preventive measures can be applied in the future.  If there was negligence, deriliction of responsibility, political pressure on OSHA or willful disregard for the safety and health of workers by employers then appropriate action is indicated in the form of rules and legislation.

 

Recent disclosures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act suggest that the USDA rejected offers of help from OSHA. This aspect will be reviewed in the investigation along with evidence of deliberate suppression of incidence rates.

 

CHICK-NEWS has previously reported on the steps taken by individual companies to protect workers including the provision of PPE, erection of barriers between workstations, testing for COVID with quarantine and pay during absence from work, staggered shift changes, installation of equipment to decontaminate air and other measures.  Many of the activities that required investments of millions of dollars were undertaken voluntarily by the major meat processors including Tyson Foods, Perdue Farms, JBS, and Smithfield Foods among others. The Industry responded with initiatives recommended by epidemiologists and advisors frequently in the absence of clear and specific guidance and with changing standards from the CDC and OSHA.


 
Copyright © 2021 Simon M. Shane