The CDC and OSHA released a COVID-19 related interim guidance for meatpacking and meat processing workers on April 26, 2020. While industry-specific in some details, it is an excellent guide for any facility particularly one which is planning for a restart of operations.
First and foremost, the guidance recommends appointing a qualified workplace coordinator who is responsible for COVID-19 assessment and control planning. All employees in the facility should know how to contact the identified coordinator with any COVID-19 concerns.The guidance focuses also on creating a COVID-19 assessment and control plan using a hierarchy of controls based on their effectiveness focusing first on engineering controls then administrative controls and recommends the infection control plan apply to anyone entering the facility.
The preferred engineering controls should be designed to eliminate or minimize the risk and could include modified communal work areas that separate workers, physical barriers to separate workers from each other, and the often overlooked step of increasing ventilation. Also, the addition of handwashing stations or hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol in multiple locations to encourage hand hygiene. If possible, choose hand sanitizer stations that are touch-free.
Administrative Controls may include:
- Encouraging single-file movement with a six-foot distance between each worker;
- Designating workers to monitor and facilitate distancing on processing floor lines;
- Staggering break times or providing temporary break areas and restrooms to avoid groups of workers during breaks;
- Reminding workers to maintain at least six feet of distance from others at all times, including on breaks and meals;
- Staggering workers’ arrival and departure times to avoid congregations of workers in parking areas, locker rooms, and near time clocks (more time clocks could also be beneficial); and
- Providing visual cues (e.g., floor markings) as a reminder to workers to maintain social distancing.
This new guidance from OSHA and the CDC also includes detailed information regarding:
- Appropriate cleaning of working areas and shared tools and equipment;
- Screening employees for the coronavirus before they enter work facilities;
- Managing any employee who shows signs and symptoms of the coronavirus;
- Using appropriate personal protective equipment; and
- Aggressively practicing social distancing at the workplace.
For various reasons, meat and poultry processing facility workers have had a high incidence of COVID-19 infections which has caused issuance of guidance to the industry. It should be noted that these guidance documents are not legally binding, but they could be used to establish knowledge for an alleged violation or be the foundation of a General Duty Clause violation.
The advice in the guidance is useful in any workplace and can also prepare your facility for an OSHA complaint or inspection. Businesses may find it helpful to consider guidance from OSHA, as well as other government health agencies, and specific recommendations from industry associations in determining how best to protect the safety and health of their workers.
If you have any questions regarding the interim guidance or other OSHA issues during the COVID-19 pandemic, attorneys on the Woods Rogers Labor & Employment team and their partners at Woods Rogers Consulting are available to assist.