Labor & Employment Law Daily Cal/OSHA ‘on the job’ over pandemic violations at Smithfield meat-packing plant
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Monday, November 23, 2020

Cal/OSHA ‘on the job’ over pandemic violations at Smithfield meat-packing plant

By Pamela Wolf, J.D.

Smithfield’s infractions included failing to consider at least 303 COVID-19 illnesses to be work-related and to effectively identify or evaluate workplace hazards.

Cal/OSHA’s database shows that a Smithfield Foods, Inc., meat-packing facility in Vernon, California, has been cited with $55,850 in proposed penalties for COVID-19-related violations. Cal/OSHA also cited CitiStaff Solutions, Inc., with $45,900 in COVID-19-related violations pertaining to the workers it placed at Smithfield.

Violations. The Smithfield citations, summarized in the database, were for failing to immediately report serious illnesses to Cal/OSHA, investigate COVID-19 illnesses of employees and contracted employees, provide access to the employer’s log 300, implement an effective Injury and Illness Prevention Program, prevent harmful exposure to COVID-19, and provide effective training on preventing COVID-19 infection, how the virus is spread, and signs and symptoms of infection.

The CitiStaff citations were for not implementing and maintaining an effective injury and illness Prevention Program, evaluating the hazards when working at screening stations, implementing physical distancing, and providing adequate training to employees on infection prevention measures to avoid infection, and on signs and symptoms of infection for COVID-19.

Drilling down further. Unlike the federal OSHA, which has stopped doing so, Cal/OSHA provides access to the full detail of the citations. Accordingly, the Smithfield citations included the following COVID-19-related infractions:

  • Failed to report to the Division of Occupational Safety and Health the serious illnesses of its employees who fell ill of COVID-19 that occurred at its workplace or in connection with the employees’ work—three employees hospitalized as a result of COVID-19.
  • Failed to consider at least 303 COVID-19 illnesses of its own employees and contract employees of CitiStaff to be work-related.
  • Failed to effectively implement its written Injury and Illness Prevention Program covering its own employees and contract employees of CitiStaff, in that Smithfield did not investigate approximately 300 COVID-19 illnesses, including at least three serious illnesses with hospitalization.

Ineffective prevention. Smithfield was also cited for failing to implement and maintain an effective Injury and Illness Prevention Program. These infractions included failing to effectively identify or evaluate workplace hazards relating to COVID-19 that affected its own employees and contract employees of CitiStaff, including:

  • The possible contamination of face coverings due to improper handling and storage during breaks in the main outdoor lunch area;
  • Failure to provide or ensure the use of face coverings to prevent the release of infectious particles into the air when persons are breathing, speaking, coughing, or sneezing; and
  • A lack of physical distancing or physical barriers among employees, including at the end of the assembly lines where employees were working within six feet of each other.

Failure to train. Cal/OSHA also cited Smithfield for failing to provide training and instruction to its own employees and contract employees of CitiStaff on the new occupational hazard of COVID-19, including on how the virus is spread and measures to avoid infection, signs and symptoms of infection, and how to safely use cleaners and disinfectants.

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