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Smithfield to develop preparedness plan for infectious diseases

The largest U.S. pork processor, Smithfield Foods, will pay a $13,494 penalty for failing to protect workers from the coronavirus at its South Dakota slaughter plant in 2020 and will develop a company-wide preparedness plan against infectious diseases, said the Labor Department on Monday. Smithfield closed the plant in Sioux Falls for 25 days during a COVID-19 outbreak that infected 1,294 workers and killed four of them.

“The terms of this settlement are intended to ensure that Smithfield employees receive the training and protective measures necessary to protect them from exposure to the infectious diseases at their facilities,” said Jennifer Rous, OSHA regional administrator in Denver. “What happened at this facility was tragic and we must ensure that all steps in the agreement are followed to prevent a mass outbreak from happening again.”

Under the agreement, Smithfield will assemble a team of company and independent experts to develop a preparedness plan. In the interim, it will continue to use its current COVID-19 plan to reduce employee exposure to the coronavirus. OSHA cited Smithfield under the its “general duty clause” for failing to protect workers after an inspection of the Sioux Falls plant in March 2020.

About 3,600 people work for Smithfield in Sioux Falls and the company employs 40,000 nationwide.

Smithfield reported 9,666 infections and 25 deaths during the first year of the pandemic, according to a House subcommittee report on Oct 27. The report, which focused on five large meatpackers, called on the companies to see that workers are vaccinated against COVID-19. The number of infections and deaths reported by the packers was three times larger than previously thought. “Our investigation found that the Trump administration’s response to the outbreaks in meatpacking plants was wholly insufficient,” said subcommittee chairman Rep. James Clyburn, South Carolina Democrat.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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