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Dakota News Now

Trump's OSHA: 3k per COVID Death

Smithfield Foods issued a measly $13k fine for outbreak that killed 4

Kris LaGrange's picture
Sep 10, 2020

What is the value of a worker’s life during the COVID-19 crisis? The answer from OSHA seems to be $13,494.

That was the amount the agency fined Smithfield for one violation of failing to provide a workplace free from recognized hazards that can cause death or serious harm at their Sioux Falls South Dakota plant. During the outbreak, 1,000 workers contracted the virus and four of them died. In April, the plant was the top hotspot for new cases in the country.

According to reports at least 25% of the plant was infected with COVID-19 and another 210 close contacts caught it from plant workers. The cases forced the plant to close on April 13th for two weeks.

“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.”

In announcing the penalty, OSHA said that the amount was the most that they were allowed to fine the company. The company makes over $14 Billion a year so a $13,494 fine is just a drop in the bucket to the company. For a company like Smithfield, it actually makes economic sense to just take the fine, rather than spend the money to retrofit their slaughterhouse.

This is the problem with the current rules. OSHA has seen their ability to inspect and enforce workplace safety consistently neutered. Inspections are way down under Trump and the fines they are allowed to hand out are tiny compared to what many of these companies are making. Even with such a small fine, Smithfield has said that they will fight the fine, potentially tying it up in court for years and preventing any form of justice for the four people who died.

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