New health and safety guidance for US meatpackers

The US Labour Department has issued new guidelines for US meatpacking and meat processing plants that have experienced COVID-19 infections.
calendar icon 27 April 2020
clock icon 2 minute read

According to Reuters, the guidance stipulates that employees should be spaced at least six feet apart and undergo health screenings before they begin their shifts.

The interim guidance, issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), part of the US Labour Department, recommends temperature checks and wearing cloth face coverings as protective measures.

The guidance was issued jointly with the CDC.

“As essential workers, those in the meatpacking and processing industries need to be protected from coronavirus for their own safety and health,” OSHA's deputy assistant secretary, Loren Sweatt, said in a news release.

COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus, has spread widely through US slaughterhouses where large groups of employees often work shoulder to shoulder.

More than 5,000 US meat and food processing workers have been infected with or exposed to the new coronavirus, and 13 have died, the country’s largest meatpacking union said on Thursday.

Meat suppliers including Tyson Foods Inc, Brazilian-owned JBS USA, and Smithfield Foods have all closed pork and beef plants.

Many labour unions, Democrats and worker advocates have criticised OSHA for what they say has been an inadequate response to the pandemic. OSHA had recommended employers take various steps, rather than adopting emergency standards requiring them.

The slaughterhouse shutdowns are disrupting the US food supply chain, restricting the availability of meat at retail stores and leaving farmers without outlets for their livestock.

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