State Watch

Inspectors find no violations at coronavirus-stricken Tyson plant in Iowa

Regulators discovered no workplace safety violations at a Tyson Foods pork processing plant in Iowa that experienced a deadly coronavirus outbreak earlier this year.

County officials and workers had alleged that the Tyson plant in Waterloo, Iowa, had not implemented adequate health protocols in March and part of April as the disease began rapidly spreading throughout the U.S.

At least five plant workers died after contracting the virus, according to The Associated Press. Health officials in Black Hawk County have also reportedly said that at least 1,000 employees tested positive for COVID-19 or antibodies in early May. The facility employs about 2,800 people. 

But the Iowa Occupational Safety and Health Administration wrapped up its inquiry into the facility earlier this month without implementing any sanctions, the AP noted.

In a letter dated June 11, Iowa Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Administrator Russell Perry said that his department found “no violations of the Iowa occupational safety and health standards on the date of the inspection,” according to the news service.

“You may have listed conditions on your complaint that were not within the scope of our jurisdiction or items did not exist during the inspection,” he wrote to state Rep. Ras Smith (D), who was one of several lawmakers to file a complaint in April alleging that Tyson’s working conditions caused the outbreak.

Smith and state Sen. Bill Dotzler (D), who both represent Waterloo, expressed shock over OSHA’s findings. Dotzler told the AP that it’s “pretty clear that they couldn’t find water if they were standing in a river.”

Tyson Foods was forced to temporarily shut down its pork processing plant in late April because so many of its employees were absent due to the pandemic. The closure came as meatpacking plants emerged as major hot spots for the virus’s spread, causing the deaths of workers in several different cities.

The Waterloo plant reopened about two weeks later with new safety protocols in place. In addition to other requirements, workers must wear masks and undergo frequent testing.

The Iowa Department of Public Health reported on May 5 that 444 employees at the Waterloo Tyson plant tested positive for coronavirus. The agency said that hundreds of employees at other Tyson plants in the state had also contracted the virus.

Tyson also temporarily closed a plant in Perry, Iowa, in April after seeing a surge in reported COVID-19 cases. Iowa’s OSHA reportedly declined to conduct an inspection of the facility. 

Tags Coronavirus COVID-19 Food industry Iowa Meat packing industry Tyson Foods

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