The COVID-19 outbreak has hit meatpacking hard, with more than 10,000 cases at facilities nationwide.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued updated guidance aimed at slowing the virus’s spread within the industry.
In Colorado, at least five meatpacking plants have reported confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19. One of those facilities recorded the second-biggest outbreak in the state, with 287 cases.
The new guidance suggests ways to limit worker exposure and improve workplace hygiene practices.
“Employers should begin by reading the whole guidance,”advises David Knell, a safety consultant at Pinnacol. “The guidelines say employers should address COVID-19 like any other safety hazard, and that starts with a job hazard assessment using the hierarchy of controls.”
OSHA wants plants to make good faith attempts to follow the guidance.
“They do not anticipate citing anyone who follows the guidance to the best of their ability,” Knell says. “If some things can’t be done or are not feasible, employers should document why. OSHA issued a statement clarifying their stance on enforcement policy regarding the guidelines.”
Knell recommends that employers incorporate the COVID-19 guidance into their existing safety program, like they would any OSHA-mandated program, such as HAZCOM or Respiratory Protection, to lower infection risk.
Steps you can take include the following:
The guidance encourages but does not require employees to wear cloth face masks. Knell notes masks can get wet or soiled by meat and become more hazardous than helpful.
Workers displaying COVID-19 symptoms may choose not to stay home because they need their paycheck. Revise leave and incentive-based bonus policies that could unintentionally encourage sick employees to come to work.