Smithfield Foods to contest OSHA citation
Four employees died, 1.3K employees contracted COVID during April outbreak at South Dakota plant
Smithfield Foods Inc. intends to contest a citation from the U.S. Labor Department stating that Smithfield failed to protect workers during an April outbreak at its Sioux Falls, South Dakota, plant, where approximately 1,300 workers contracted COVID-19 and four employees died.
The Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) proposed fining the world’s largest pork processor the maximum amount under the law, $13,494, for “failing to provide a workplace free from recognized hazards that can cause death or serious harm.”
“This OSHA citation is wholly without merit and we plan to contest it,” Keira Lombardo, Smithfield Foods executive vice president for corporate affairs and compliance, said in a statement issued Tuesday. “After an investigation that spanned many months and encompassed the review of over 20,000 pages of documents and 60 interviews, OSHA has issued only a singular citation under its catchall ‘general duty clause’ for conditions that existed on and prior to March 23, 2020. This is notable because OSHA did not issue guidelines for the meatpacking industry until April 26, 2020. Despite this fact, we figured it out on our own.”
The OSHA citation said that Smithfield employees worked close together and were exposed to the virus. OSHA, in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, also in April issued issued joint guidelines to meat processing plants, aimed at protecting factory workers from contracting COVID-19.
“We took extraordinary measures on our own initiative to keep our employees as healthy and safe as possible so that we could fulfill our obligation to the American people to maintain the food supply,” Lombardo said. “We incurred incremental expenses related to COVID-19 totaling $350 million during the second quarter alone. Ironically, OSHA then used what we had done as a model for its April 26 guidance.”
Smithfield Foods temporarily closed the South Dakota plant in April after cases surged among employees, which the company says was due to a spike in local cases.
“The fact is that the Sioux Falls community experienced an early spike in COVID-19 cases, which impacted our plant. We responded immediately, consulting with CDC, South Dakota Department of Health, USDA and many others,” Lombardo said. “We also simultaneously and repeatedly urged OSHA to commit the time and resources to visit our operations in March and April. They did not do so. … More than anything, the outcome of OSHA’s comprehensive, full court press investigation of our Sioux Falls … facility validates the aggressive and comprehensive manner in which we have protected the health and safety of our employees amid the pandemic.”
Based in Smithfield, agriculture giant Smithfield Foods was founded in 1936 and employs more than 40,000 people in the U.S.