Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, slaughterhouses and meatpacking plants have been a major risk for infection and have now become center stage. What should be highlighted is the fact that at a plant such as Smithfield, an infection is not an isolated incident; it affects the whole community, have far-reaching implications, and require rigorous public health interventions.
Employers have a duty to implement appropriate measures to safeguard their workers and as far as possible ensure their health and safety. Employers must understand this and meet their obligations by implementing the necessary checks and balances to prevent the spread of coronavirus at their worksite and, as in this case, the death of their employees.
1. Contributing factors
Slaughterhouses and meat processing plants are considered favorable environments for COVID-19 transmission since the virus thrives in lower temperatures and either extremely high or extremely low relative humidity. Metallic surfaces, which are standard at meat processing plans, can retain live viruses for longer than other surfaces. This combined with the normal appearance of dust, feathers, and feces in the plants with the accompanying water usage carries materials extensively over surfaces. Furthermore, due to the noise levels at a plan, workers often must shout to be heard over the plant’s noise which means more droplets are released potentially carrying and spreading the virus. Finally, the crowned nature of a workplace such as a meat processing plant makes social distancing very difficult.
2. What happened at Smithfield?
Despite the above readily available information, a CDC study of the situation at Smithfield found that “929 employees — a quarter of the plant's workers — had been infected, along with 210 close contacts”. The previous count reported by the state had been 853 employees. In response, the US Department of Labor proposed to fine Smithfield Foods $13,494 fine for not protecting its employees at its meat processing plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. It is estimated that nearly 1 300 workers contracted COVID-19 of whom 4 died.
3. How Plan4Continuity can assist in preventing tragedies such as these
Plan4Continuity’s Workplace Readiness and Re-Opening business continuity plan, for example, explores those measures employers may wish to put in place when re-opening the workplace and returning their workforce safely. These can include, for example, reducing common touchpoints, daily screening for COVID-19 symptoms and report on potential cases of COVID-19. Plan4Continuity streamlines and automates all these processes to give you the advantage during a pandemic. Plan4Continuity is furthermore a comprehensive audit management solution that not only boosts accountability and improve external audit readiness, but also oversee the entire audit lifecycle – create, store audit plans, and track audit history.
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