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Oklahoma meatpacking plant under OSHA investigation for 'COVID safety failures'

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Posted at 6:37 PM, Apr 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-12 20:21:30-04

GUYMON, Okla. — The pandemic has had a big impact on staffing in multiple industries, especially on meat production.

One of the highest COVID-19 case counts belongs to a meat processing facility in Guymon, Okla.

Seaboard Foods is currently under investigation, accused of COVID safety failures.

Since the start of the pandemic, a company rep admits they have had 1,114 employees of 2,600 test positive and six deaths.

Seaboard occasionally supplies food to a Tulsa meat shop, Perry’s. Staff there went through their own share of infections and still struggle with a staffing shortage.

“We used to have someone in the kitchen making baked beans once a week and ham spreads. We used to do call-in orders more,” said Tricia White, Perry’s general manager.

Since the pandemic, Perry’s employee count went from 20 to 12. Four got sick with coronavirus, including White.

“I had to stay home until I got my results, and that Friday I got my results and I had it,” she said.

White bounced back but some of Perry’s suppliers have not, like Seaboard.

“We’re blessed more people didn’t get the virus,” said Reena Turner, Seaboard employee.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration is stepping in at the request of the union.

“Seaboard has their workers exposed to the virus. No social distancing in the facility; not providing adequate PPE,” said Martin Rosas, local union president for UFCW Local 2.

The other concern comes during lunch time.

The cafeteria is so full,” Turner said. “It’s like two rooms but there’s no six feet apart.”

A Seaboard rep sent 2 Works for You a statement on the complaint filed with OSHA. Part of it said they do follow CDC guidelines and that they encourage employees to provide feedback as they evolve policies.

OSHA started inspecting Seaboard Foods’ facility last week and wrapped up Monday. The union is now waiting on results. After they are revealed, they hope more action is taken to protect meatpacking workers.

"As the COVID-19 pandemic has affected our communities, Seaboard Foods continues to adapt to ensure our Guymon, Oklahoma, pork processing plant remains a safe place to work while producing much-needed food for tables across our communities and the country. We want to make sure we’re doing everything we can to help protect our employees while still working to meet our commitment as an essential business.
We proactively share a weekly update with our employees about the number of confirmed cases at the plant to ensure transparency and allow employees to make informed decisions about their health. Since the start of the pandemic, 1,014 current and former employees have tested positive for COVID-19 at the plant. We are saddened that six of our colleagues have passed away in 2020 after contracting COVID-19 during the pandemic and we send our deepest condolences to their families, friends and co-workers.
As part of Seaboard Foods’ efforts to continuously improve and adapt amid the pandemic, we continue to incorporate updated guidance from the CDC, local health departments and medical experts. This includes following the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) established standards for recording and reporting workplace illnesses and its guidance specifically related to determining whether employee cases of confirmed positive COVID-19 diagnoses are work related.
If an employee tests positive for COVID-19, they are sent home to self-isolate. To support our employees’ ability to stay home, we have created a temporary COVID-19 Leave Policy, in which employees who have been directed to self-quarantine or isolate to due to COVID-19 related symptoms or are living in the same household with a person who has received a medical directive for COVID-19 symptoms receive paid leave for up to two weeks or 80 hours if they are paid hourly. Today, we have one plant employee who is confirmed positive with COVID-19 and out on paid leave.
On May 12-13, 2020, Seaboard Foods conducted COVID-19 testing for our Guymon processing plant employees as part of our commitment to keeping our employees safe and to answering the call from employees and health experts for broader testing. Of the more than 1,600 processing plant employees without symptoms tested at that time, 350 tested positive for COVID-19 in addition to 90 employees who had symptoms and tested positive prior to the testing event and were not reporting to work. The test results reinforced that broad employee testing was the right thing to do to help keep our employees safe and for our employees to understand their COVID-19 status and that of their peers.
While we are not mandating vaccinations of all employees, Seaboard Foods hosted vaccination clinics at the Guymon plant on April 1 and 2, 2021.So far, 933 plant employees have voluntarily received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine. Employees who have been vaccinated are still required to follow all COVID-19 guidelines and protocols in the plant, including continuing to wear masks, distance themselves and wash their hands frequently.
Employees potentially exposed to a positive COVID-19 case who are fully vaccinated do not need to be excluded from the workplace or get tested unless they have symptoms, in accordance with the latest CDC guidance []. The definition of fully vaccinated means that an employee is two weeks post their second dose in a 2-dose series, like the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or two weeks after a single-dose vaccine, like Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine.
We encourage all employees to continue to share their feedback with us because it helps us evolve our policies to best protect and support them. Employees can share feedback through a number of channels, including a toll-free COVID-19 hotline and employee communications app, or they can speak directly with experienced health and HR teams onsite at the plant. The contact information for the COVID-19 Coordinator – a nurse who focuses exclusively on helping employees manage their personal health needs – is posted in the languages commonly spoken in the plant at the employee entrance, outside of the COVID-19 Coordinator office, and on the television monitors. The posting encourages feedback and explains that feedback is confidential and not subject to retaliation. Seaboard Foods also sends plant-wide and individual text messages to its roughly 2,500 employees regarding COVID-19 matters. We provide interpretation services to employees if requested.
Seaboard Foods has implemented comprehensive protocols and operational controls since the onset of the pandemic to help protect our employees and reduce potential transmission. These include:
  • Hiring a full-time, onsite, experienced COVID-19 Coordinator who focuses exclusively on helping employees manage their personal health needs and coordinating with local health and medical professionals to help Seaboard Foods address and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Implementing physical distancing dividers and markers throughout our plant’s common areas and installed protective systems like plexiglass barriers on select production line workstations, all cafeteria tables, and all cafeteria cash registers.
· Providing free of charge to employees millions of surgical-style face coverings. Face coverings are always required to be worn prior to entering the building and when at the plant, except when eating and drinking.
· At the main employee entrance, which is marked with distancing markers, thermal scan temperature checks occur for all employees and we installed four additional clock in/out stations to reduce lines and congestion.
  • Permanently expanded both the men’s and women’s locker rooms by 1,000 square feet each to accommodate 700 new lockers for employees to allow for greater social distancing.
  • Increasing the number of touch-free hand sanitizers throughout the plant, using over 4,000 gallons of sanitizer since the start of the pandemic.
  • Posting educational signage in the languages commonly spoken in the plant.
  • Sanitizing the plant, equipment and personal tools using anti-bacterial and anti-viral cleansers daily and increased custodial services in employee commons areas.
  • Evaluating and determining that the industrial-grade ventilation system provides a minimum of approximately 40 air changes per hour in all production areas and 10 to 15 in other areas.
While we’re proud of the investments we’ve made so far, we know our work is not finished and we are committed to continuous improvement as we learn more about the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on our community.
David Eaheart, APR Sr. Director of Communications and Brand Marketing Seaboard Foods

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