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January 04, 2021
Cal/OSHA cites COVID-19 violations in meatpacking

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) cited eight employers across the state for not protecting workers from COVID-19 following inspections at meat processing facilities. Many were cited for violations of the state’s injury and illness prevention program standard—a state regulation with no corresponding federal standard.

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Employers also were cited for failing to report work-related illnesses and fatalities. The employers included meatpacking companies and worker staffing agencies.

“Enforcement of COVID-19 protections at meatpacking and food processing facilities has been a priority of Cal/OSHA given the high rates of positive cases and alarming number of deaths among food processing workers,” Cal/OSHA Chief Doug Parker said in an agency statement.

On November 12, the agency cited Smithfield Foods, Inc., in Vernon, California, seeking $58,100 in proposed penalties, for multiple COVID-19-related violations, including two serious in nature, and cited its staffing firm, CitiStaff Solutions, for two serious violations, seeking penalties of $46,695. Cal/OSHA inspectors determined that Smithfield failed to adequately address at least 300 cases of COVID-19, including 3 that required hospitalization, among its employees and contract workers hired by CitiStaff Solutions. Smithfield also failed to report serious COVID-19 illnesses to the agency.

Cal/OSHA in June became aware that several One World Beef Packer employees were hospitalized for complications related to COVID-19, including one who died. When Cal/OSHA inspected the Brawley, California, facility, investigators noted that workers in the production lines and quality assurance area were not provided protective barriers and were working too closely to one another.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in April issued COVID-19 guidelines for meat and poultry processing facilities that included using physical barriers, such as plexiglass or similar material, and establishing distances of at least 6 feet between workers.

Cal/OSHA also cited One World for failing to report the serious illnesses and fatality within the 8-hour time limit as required by law.

The state agency opened inspections at meat processing plants in Vernon in June and July as part of a targeted enforcement effort following reports of COVID-19 outbreaks. A Cal/OSHA inspection at the California Farms Meat Company confirmed the employer did not implement physical distancing policies or install barriers in the production area, where workers separated chicken by hand and operated machines within close distance of each other. The agency cited the employers for serious violations, seeking $11,700 in proposed penalties.

Cal/OSHA in July opened inspections of CLW Foods in Vernon and its staffing firms California Enterprises Employment and HR Staffing Solutions. The agency cited the employers for multiple violations, including serious violations for failing to address COVID-19 hazards through training employees and ensuring proper physical distancing policies on conveyor lines, in the production area, and when employees took breaks. CLW Foods and California Enterprise Employment also were cited for failing to report serious COVID-19 illnesses to the agency.

On November 30, California’s Office of Administrative Law approved the state’s emergency temporary standards (ETS) for COVID-19 exposures.  

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