Meatpacking: Implementing the new CDC-OSHA guidance on COVID-19

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.” 

Workplace safety tips

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:

  1. Place one person in charge of implementation as a coordinator and establish communication expectations across your management team.
  2. Modify your production lines to comply with social distancing recommendations. If engineering controls such as partitions are not feasible, limiting production employee numbers per shift may be necessary.
  3. Train workers and supervisors to recognize COVID-19 symptoms.
  4. Provide well-fitting personal protective equipment (PPE), such as gloves and gowns.
  5. Stagger shifts to reduce the number of people in your facilities and locker rooms.
  6. Employ cohorting to keep the same workers on the same shifts, mitigating potential exposure.
  7. Establish a sanitization schedule for the different equipment throughout the plant. Equipment should be sanitized throughout the day, especially when in use by multiple employees.
  8. Post signage, in different languages throughout the facility, reminding people to wash their hands and practice good hygiene.
  9. Add visual cues to floors and walls on the line, showing workers where to stand to practice social distancing.
  10. Encourage employees to continue social distancing measures during breaks and lunches, when they may come into contact with each other without their PPE.
  11. Discourage carpooling to and from work.
  12. Expand and increase current hand-washing requirements to include washing both before and after entering the production floor.
  13. Attach face shields to helmets, if your facility uses them.

What about face masks?

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.

Reexamine leave and incentives

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.  

Consult expert safety resources

Get more information from Pinnacol on PPE and hazard communication. Want additional assistance? Contact us to schedule a one-on-one consultation with a safety consultant.

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