Four JBS Foods USA subsidiaries and affiliates have agreed to assemble a team of the company and third-party experts to develop and implement an infectious disease preparedness plan for seven of its meat processing facilities to protect its workers.
The team will include subject-matter experts recommended by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, who represent the workers at the covered facilities, said the federal agency in a press release.
The agreement will affect workers at seven facilities located in Greeley, Colorado; Souderton, Pennsylvania; Beardstown, Illinois; Cactus, Texas; Grand Island, Nebraska; Green Bay, Wisconsin, and Omaha, Nebraska.
Following two inspections in April and May 2020, OSHA cited Swift Beef Co. in Greeley and JBS Green Bay Inc. in Green Bay – part of JBS USA – for their failures to protect workers from coronavirus hazards.
“This settlement is intended to ensure that, going forward, protective measures are in place to protect workers at these facilities from COVID-19 and from other infectious diseases as well,” said OSHA’s Regional Administrator Jennifer Rous in Denver. “This settlement will positively impact the safety and health of JBS employees far beyond the two facilities where these inspections occurred.”
After a COVID-19 outbreak, the Greeley plant was shut down on April 13, 2020, and reopened 14 days later. By July 30, 2020, the outbreak had led to five workers’ deaths, 51 hospitalizations, and 290 confirmed positive cases reported.
In Green Bay, the JBS plant closed on April 26, 2020, and remained shuttered until May 6, 2020. By April 22, 2020, 147 positive cases were confirmed. By Aug. 12, 2020, 357 positive cases were confirmed, and two workers had died of COVID-19.
“Employers are legally obligated to provide workers with a safe and healthful workplace, and the U.S. Department of Labor is committed to holding employers accountable when they fail to do so,” said Regional Solicitor John Rainwater, in Dallas. “Terrible tragedies occurred at JBS facilities in Greeley and Green Bay, and we will ensure that this agreement is in full force to prevent a mass outbreak from happening again.”
According to OSHA, under the agreement, the JBS subsidiaries and affiliates will use an updated Safe Work Playbook to reduce employee exposure to coronavirus while working with third-party experts to assess plants’ operating procedures and develop the infectious disease preparedness plan. The team of experts must evaluate work areas and other areas where employees congregate to minimize employees’ potential exposure to infectious diseases.
The team of third-party multi-disciplinary experts and company representatives will also:
- Review JBS’s existing programs and procedures, including its occupational health system.
- Evaluate and provide recommendations regarding engineering, administrative, and work practice controls, including ventilation, employee and visitor screening protocols, and cleaning.
- Identify personal protective equipment and respiratory protection needs, including the number of respirators and other PPE to stockpile in preparation for future outbreaks, epidemics, or pandemics.
- Address occupational health issues related to infectious disease prevention and response, and provide recommendations on continuity of operations plan.
Following the development of its infectious disease preparedness plan, the seven JBS facilities will designate a plan administrator at each facility to implement and monitor the plan. JBS will ensure that safety and health training related to the plan is provided in languages and at literacy levels that the workforce understands. JBS and authorized employee representatives will also evaluate the plan annually.
Swift Beef Co. and JBS Green Bay Inc. will pay an OSHA assessed penalty of $14,502.