May 18, 2020
On Monday, Rep. Cindy Axne (D-Iowa) issued a statement demanding immediate investigation of Iowa Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) based on allegations that OSHA failed to thoroughly investigate a reported complaint at the Tyson Foods Perry, Iowa, plant.
“Iowans are relying on our public health and safety experts to root out and contain any outbreaks of COVID-19 in our state. I am profoundly distressed at the report that an employee complaint from Perry took nearly 20 days to investigate – and that the end result of that investigation yielded no warnings of the massive outbreak that was reported the following week,” Axne said in the statement.
Earlier this month, the Perry plant reported more than 700 of its staff had contracted COVID-19, the Associated Press (AP) reports.
A complaint was filed April 11 with the Iowa OSHA saying employees were spreading the virus as they worked “elbow to elbow.” The complaint alleged social distancing was near impossible in production areas and the cafeteria, AP reports. Nine days later, Iowa OSHA reached out to Tyson Foods to seek a response.
Tyson Foods told Farm Journal’s PORK they received the complaint from the Iowa Division of Labor on April 20 and responded on April 22 with a detailed letter outlining their worker safety efforts. They also temporarily suspended operations at the Perry plant in late April for deep cleaning and to collaborate with state and local health officials on team member testing for COVID-19.
Tyson Foods started implementing measures to protect their team workers at Perry long before they received the complaint, the company said.
“We began educating our team members about COVID-19 in February, started taking worker temperatures in March, encouraged workers to wear face coverings by early April and were installing workstation dividers in the plant by mid-April,” the company said in a statement.
According to the report, Iowa OSHA closed the case related to the employee complaint on April 28 without inspecting the plant in Perry, the AP reports.
“If complaints of improper COVID-19 protections are not taken seriously, investigated swiftly, and inspected thoroughly – then any attempt to reopen our economy poses an intolerable risk to the health and wellbeing of Iowa’s workers and their families,” Axne said in the statement.