IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) – Iowa regulators say they did not find workplace safety violations at Tyson Foods’ largest pork processing plant, which employed several people who died after contracting the corona virus.
The Iowa Occupational Safety and Health Administration closed its investigation of the Tyson factory in Waterloo earlier this month without sanctioning the meat company.
Officials and workers of the province have claimed that workers in March and part of April lacked personal protective equipment to stop the spread of the virus and did not distance themselves socially. The company says it has taken numerous safety measures since then, including masks, screening for symptoms and frequent testing.
Black Hawk County has said that more than 1,000 of the 2,800 workers at the Waterloo plant had tested positive for the virus or antibodies in early May.
The Associated Press has confirmed that at least five workers have died after getting the virus, most recently a 44-year-old maintenance worker who died on Memorial Day after a long illness. Other deaths included a 65-year-old laundry associate, a 58-year-old Bosnian refugee, a 60-year-old Latino father, and a refugee from Congo.
Iowa health officials have not released the number of meat packers who died from the virus in Waterloo or other factories.
Iowa OSHA said it inspected the Waterloo plant on April 20 after democratic lawmakers filed a complaint that unsafe working conditions caused the outbreak, which devastated the wider community. Within a few days, the factory ceased operations and reopened with new safety protocols about two weeks later.
OSHA administrator Russell Perry of Iowa said in a letter dated June 11 that his agency found “no violations of Iowa’s health and safety standards at the inspection date.”
“You may have listed conditions on your complaint that were not within the scope of our jurisdiction or did not exist during the inspection,” he wrote to Rep. Ras Smith, a Waterloo Democrat who was among the complainants.
Smith, whose district includes the factory and issued the letter to AP, said on Tuesday he was stunned by the decision. He said the agency seemed to protect the company and not the employees.
“If they couldn’t find anything, why did Tyson feel the need to stop and make some improvements?” Smith said. “It appears that Iowa is either an accomplice or refuses to do the right thing.”
State Sen. Bill Billzler, a Waterloo Democrat who also filed the complaint, said he was flabbergasted.
“It’s pretty clear they couldn’t find water if they were in a river,” he said of Iowa OSHA.
Iowa’s OSHA database also shows that recent inspections of the Tyson pork processing plants department at Columbus Junction and Perry have been closed with no violations found.
“We appreciate the important role played by Iowa OSHA and are pleased with the results of the studies,” Tyson spokeswoman Liz Croston said Tuesday. She said the number of active infections among workers in Iowa continues to “decrease.”
The Iowa Department of Health said in early May that 951 workers at the Columbus Junction and Perry factories had tested positive for COVID-19 after outbreaks in them. The company has acknowledged that at least two Columbus Junction employees have died from the corona virus.
Iowa OSHA said it only inspected those factories in response to “media referrals.” The agency had refused to inspect the Perry factory in April after receiving a complaint as the outbreak grew.
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