SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Pork processing giant Smithfield has agreed to pay a $13,494 fine and make changes to its health and safety plans, as part of a settlement with federal safety officials over the COVID-19 outbreak at the company's Sioux Falls plant in March 2020 that killed four workers and sickened nearly 1,300.
Smithfield Packaged Meats Corp., the owner of the Sioux Falls plant, has agreed to pay the fine and develop an infectious disease preparedness plan for its plants nationwide, in a settlement with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the agency announced Monday, Nov. 15.
OSHA investigated the plant in April 2020 after the company temporarily shut it down to stem an early pandemic outbreak there. The outbreak quickly became one of the worst in the nation and spread to employees' families and fueled the rising number of positive cases in the city. By June, 1,294 Smithfield workers had tested positive for COVID-19 and four had died.
A congressional investigation later found that by April 2021, about 42% of the plant's workforce, or 1,674 of 3,969 workers, had caught COVID-19, although that includes infections reported during a virus surge in the area in late 2020.
OSHA later issued a single citation to the company, for failing to protect workers from COVID-19 hazards at the facility.
In the settlement with the agency, Smithfield promised to continue using its current COVID-19 Preparedness and Response plan, and work with company and third-party experts to assess its plants' operating procedures and develop and infectious disease preparedness plan.
“The terms of this settlement are intended to ensure that Smithfield employees receive the training and protective measures necessary to protect them from exposure to the infectious diseases at their facilities,” OSHA’s Regional Administrator Jennifer Rous said in a news release. “What happened at this facility was tragic and we must ensure that all steps in the agreement are followed to prevent a mass outbreak from happening again.”