SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The Smithfield Foods plant in Sioux Falls, which in April became the top coronavirus hotspot in America, has been fined by the U.S. Department of Labor. 

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced a fine of $13,494 to the Smithfield Packaged Meats Corporation. The inspection date is listed April 20 to Sept. 2. The fine is for “one general duty clause for failing to provide a workplace free from recognized hazards that can cause death or serious harm.”

More than 1000 positive cases were tied to Smithfield employees (910) and close contacts of Smithfield employees (210). Two Smithfield employees — Craig Franken and Agustin Rodriquez — died from the virus in April. OSHA is citing four total deaths related to Smithfield.

OSHA is also citing at least 1,294 Smithfield workers have contracted coronavirus.

“Employers must quickly implement appropriate measures to protect their workers’ safety and health,” OSHA Sioux Falls Area Director Sheila Stanley said in a news release. “Employers must meet their obligations and take the necessary actions to prevent the spread of coronavirus at their worksite.”

According to a CDC report, on March 24th, the South Dakota Health Department was notified of a case of coronavirus in an employee at the meatpacking plant. The plant was closed from April 13 to May 7.

Smithfield Foods has 15 days to pay or contest the penalty.

The company sent a statement to KELOLAND News in response to the fine from OSHA. Read it in full below:

This OSHA citation is wholly without merit and we plan to contest it. After an investigation that spanned many months and encompassed the review of over 20,000 pages of documents and 60 interviews, OSHA has issued only a singular citation under its catchall “general duty clause” for conditions that existed on and prior to March 23, 2020. This is notable because OSHA did not issue guidelines for the meatpacking industry until April 26, 2020.

 Despite this fact, we figured it out on our own. We took extraordinary measures on our own initiative to keep our employees as healthy and safe as possible so that we could fulfill our obligation to the American people to maintain the food supply. We incurred incremental expenses related to COVID-19 totaling $350 million during the second quarter alone. Ironically, OSHA then used what we had done as a model for its April 26 guidance.

 The fact is that the Sioux Falls community experienced an early spike in COVID-19 cases, which impacted our plant. We responded immediately, consulting with CDC, South Dakota Department of Health, USDA and many others. We also simultaneously and repeatedly urged OSHA to commit the time and resources to visit our operations in March and April. They did not do so.

More than anything, the outcome of OSHA’s comprehensive, full court press investigation of our Sioux Falls, SD facility validates the aggressive and comprehensive manner in which we have protected the health and safety of our employees amid the pandemic. Again, the citation is wholly without merit and we plan to contest it.

Keira Lombardo, Executive Vice President of Corporate Affairs and Compliance for Smithfield Foods

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