Graves, Hartzler ask for further clarity on CDC meatpacker safety guidelines

Safety first graphic

Congressman Sam Graves, along with Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler, sent a letter to Dr. Robert Redfield, the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention within Department of Health and Human Services and Loren Sweatt, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Occupational Safety and Health Administration within the Department of Labor, demanding further clarification on best practices to protect workers as meatpacking plants re-open across the country. The uncertainty that exists between the lines of the CDC/OSHA issued guidance leaves some meat processing facilities seeking additional clarity when properly outfitting their operations.

“America has consistently had the world’s safest, most affordable food supply. However, that is in jeopardy as a result of COVID-19. Most of our meat processors have either been shuttered or running at a reduced capacity, while they try to discern what the CDC and OSHA expects of them. As a result, our producers have nowhere to go with their animals, which threatens to put them out of business, and consumers are seeing increasingly empty store shelves.  It’s imperative that the CDC and OSHA present clear, common-sense guidelines which enable our meat processors to protect the health and safety of their workers, while helping to maintain the availability of our country’s food supply, and the livelihoods of farmers throughout North Missouri,” Graves said.

“Not only do the meatpacking plants closing due to the COVID-19 pandemic impact America’s food supply, but thousands of people in my district depend on our local meatpacking plants for financial stability. Throughout my district, I’ve spoken with people in the meatpacking industry who simply want to get back to work, make their honest living, and continue providing America’s families with the pork, poultry, and beef they distribute. Protecting our workers must be at the forefront as our meatpacking plants begin reopening. In order to do that, meatpackers must have further clarity on the CDC/OSHA issued guidelines and best practices in order to ensure that their opening is safe, effective, and sustainable. I hope that additional clarity will move us closer to fully open and operational meatpacking plants throughout Missouri and throughout our country,” Hartzler said.

A copy of the letter text can be found below:

Robert R. Redfield, MD                                              Loren Sweatt

Director                                                                       Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services       U.S. Department of Labor

Center for Disease Control and Prevention                Occupational Safety & Health Administration

395 E Street, SW, Suite 9100                                     200 Constitution Ave NW
Washington DC 20201                                               Washington, DC 20210

Dear Director Redfield and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Sweatt,

Thank you for your work in addressing our country’s current COVID-19 pandemic and how we can best mitigate the spread of this deadly virus. We are grateful for the critical role essential workers play in ensuring our country can survive this crisis.  The goal should be to both keep workers safe while also applying common sense to safety regulations to enable these essential plants to operate safely at as high of capacity as possible.  When working with meat processing plants, some have expressed uncertainty over properly implementing CDC and OSHA guidance for “Meat and Poultry Processing Workers and Employers”. As such, we respectfully request clarity on the following points as soon as possible:

  • How should employers best consider workers’ individual risk factors (e.g. older age; the presence of chronic medical conditions, including immunocompromising conditions, pregnancy) while staying within legal confines of worker protection and nondiscrimination laws?
  • When determining six (6) feet between individuals, can this be measured from nose-to-nose vs shoulder-to-shoulder? For meat processing plants that were originally designed to have workers work side-by-side approximately 18 – 24” apart, how six feet is calculated can have a tremendous impact on operations and capacity to keep food going to grocery shelves.  We would hope that a nose-to-nose calculation of the six (6) foot spacing would suffice.
  • The guidance includes diagrams to suggest that if there are curtains or barriers placed between individual workers that this serves as engineering controls for physical distancing.  Is this a correct interpretation of the guidance;
    • that workers could continue to safely work closer together than the six feet if they are only wearing provided masks and face shields or;
    • wearing masks with barriers between them?

If not, we would request CDC reconsider the guidance and recommendations for this situation. This would prevent fewer livestock from having to be destroyed and more meat placed on families’ tables.  

  • The guidance suggests that a risk assessment may determine that there are areas of the plant where placing barriers between employees is not feasible for various reasons and that the plant could determine that a mask and face shield are sufficient to be in compliance with CDC and OSHA guidelines.  If this is not a correct interpretation, we would request CDC reconsider the guidance and recommendations for this situation.
  • What commonsense flexibilities can be made in areas of plants, such as changing room lockers, that CDC and OSHA guidance is not feasible to incorporate?
  • Given the changing nature of CDC and OSHA guidance, for example, changing the timeframe for asymptomatic employees who test positive to return to work from seven (7) to ten (10) days, would CDC and OSHA consider establishing implementation dates when new guidance is issued so past compliance is not questioned?
  • Can CDC and OSHA further clarify what constitutes encouraging employees to avoid carpooling and the guidance that falls under that suggestion? What responsibility does the employer have legally to things beyond their control?
  • Would it be appropriate for CDC and OSHA guidance to encourage antibody testing to help processors gain a better understanding of who is safe to continuing working?  How would meat processing employers and employees be expected to use the results of such tests to make operating and public health decisions – assuming such tests would be voluntary, ie. not a condition of employment?  

As we continue to work with our plant managers and local leadership, we request these clarifications be written into the guidance to help these leaders ensure they are properly protecting workers while continuing to supply safe and nutritious protein to American consumers. Time is of the essence.  As you have heard, many farmers are facing depopulating their herds because meat processing plants have been shut down or have reduced capacity.  It is imperative the workers are safe and feel confident coming back to work or continuing to work while, at the same time, processors aren’t unnecessarily forced to reconfigure and re-engineer their plants when other, common sense measures could allow them to continue operating safely and efficiently. 

 

Plants want to do all they can to achieve these two goals but need certainty that their good-faith actions following your guidelines will allow them to operate with confidence.  The answers to the above questions via letter and additional published guidelines will give helpful clarity that is so needed and critical to our communities and our economy right now.

 

Thank you for your prompt response to our questions.