Center for Food Safety Seeks OSHA Rule For Meat Processors

On May 4, the Center for Food Safety (CFS), an industrial agriculture advocacy group, filed a legal action with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) petitioning OSHA to develop more stringent rules concerning oversight of meat processing facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Rulemaking Petition stated that current OSHA guidance for meat processing facilities operating during the COVID-19 pandemic fails to ensure “safe and healthful working conditions” for workers at said facilities. CFS blamed the failures in the fact that OSHA merely provided recommendations for facilities and not mandatory standards. The petition requested that OSHA issue an emergency temporary standard (ETS), a category of rules designed to enforce agency orders mandating required behavior until a final rulemaking occurs.

CFS asserted that the ETS should require every meat processing facility to: (1) develop a COVID-19 assessment and control plan; (2) implement measures to “require workers to be at least six feet apart”; (3) install physical barriers to separate workers; (4) provide face masks and gloves at facility expense; (5) “prohibit sick workers from coming to work and continue to pay and provide health care for sick workers”; (6) “slow line speeds if they pose a threat to worker or food safety”; (7) “educate and train workers on how to reduce the spread of COVID-19”; (8) “ensure regular cleaning and disinfecting of tools and equipment”; (9) “notify workers of possible exposure if a worker is confirmed to have COVID-19 and carry out deep cleaning after confirmed cases”; and (10) increase facility inspections “to ensure compliance with the ETS.” CFS further avered that it has the legal authority to request such an ETS under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which requires OSHA to proffer an ETS if OSHA determines that meat processing facility employees are “exposed to grave danger from exposure to substances or agents determined to be toxic or physically harmful” and that the danger necessitates such an ETS to ensure employee protection.

If OSHA grants CFS the petitioned ETS, the standard receives immediate effect upon publication in the Federal Register. Following publication, the Act gives OSHA six months to determine whether to make the ETS a permanent rule.