The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found several issues with COVID-19 protocols after a visit to National Beef’s Kansas plants, including not enough restrooms, lack of proper PPE training and not enough screenings.
The CDC spent two days in late April touring National Beef’s meatpacking facilitates in Ford and Seward counties in Kansas. They found a lot that was going well at the two National Beef facilities, and some protocols that needed to change immediately.
On April 20, CDC officials received a request from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to visit five Kansas meatpacking plants, including these two National Beef facilities. KDHE requested advice in developing strategies to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks.
On April 24, CDC officials toured National Beef’s plant in Dodge City, and on April 27 the same officials toured the company’s Liberal plant. On May 10, the CDC issued a report.
“We observed that companies had implemented many recommended changes by the time of our visit,” said the report compiled by John Gibbins, Kendra Broadwater and Julie Sinclair, all of the CDC.
But Martin Rosas, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 2 and vice president of the UFCW International Union, said National Beef waited to implement many practices.
“They were delaying all these protocols,” he said. “They need to train them (workers) with PPE.”
Although both National Beef plants had instituted mandatory face coverings and workers arrived with these coverings on, once the employees were in the building, the report said, the masks were not always utilized appropriately.
“During our walkthroughs we observed almost everyone wearing a face covering, but many people throughout the Ford County site did not have their noses covered,” the report said. “Some employees had elected to wear a face shield instead of a face covering.”
The CDC report stated masks need to be worn correctly and said National Beef should use videos to demonstrate proper mask wearing procedures. The CDC also stated that a face shield could not replace a face mask. It is also imperative that if a face shield is worn in place of safety goggles, over the mask, the shield must be rated for impact protection and be cleaned properly.
Also, the Ford County facility had limited COVID-19 signage and neither site had conducted in-person COVID-19 training, according to the report. However, National Beef in Liberal created an online social media group for employees in which staff can share messages.
Physical barriers were in place in the lunchrooms of both facilities and both facilities staggered breaks and added breakrooms. The CDC also recommended these two facilities screen workers during breaks.
“We did not observe hand-washing stations or temporary restrooms near these overflow break/lunch areas,” the report said. “We talked with both sites about the need for additional break areas and toilets as more employees return to work. Both sites had limited sanitizers within the break area.”
The CDC recommended that all entrants to the National Beef facility be screened by a third party. The facilities were also asked to modify their sick leave policies.
It was also recommended that each facility determine if barriers between work positions on the line pose a safety hazard to workers. The CDC observed that some facilities did not have adequate barriers. However, the National Beef plant in Liberal did; these barriers were hung on bars that are parallel to the production line.
“The barriers can be slid parallel to accommodate employees’ difficult work movements and styles,” the report stated. “This prevents, as we observed in some places, arms and elbows hitting the barrier with each cut.”
The CDC shared other best practices with National Beef. These were observations the team observed at other Kansas plants:
• Used a third-party medical contractor to screen staff and visitors (Cargill, Dodge City).
• Screened staff during breaks (Cargill, Dodge City).
• Used a card system at breakroom tables. Each card has one side that is green and one that is red. Employees should only sit at tables with green cards and flip them to red when they leave. This indicates the table must be disinfected (Cargill, Dodge City).
• Educated employees in small groups about COVID-19 (Cargill, Dodge City).
• Made portable toilets and hand-washing stations available at overflow outdoor break areas (Cargill at Dodge City and Tyson at Holcomb and Emporia).
• Created a space where employees could remove face coverings briefly (Tyson at Holcomb).
• Reassigned lockers so people in the same shift and/or line were not next to one another during their shift (Tyson at Emporia).
• Marked all seating with cues that were 6 feet apart (Tyson at Emporia).
In response to specific protocol implementations, a National Beef spokesperson cited this response from Tim Klein, National Beef’s CEO, “In our Kansas and Iowa facilities we operate in areas with high COVID-19 case counts, but that is due in large part to the on-going testing of our workforces. We continue to communicate daily with our employees on the role they, we and our communities play in keeping them safe and healthy.”
Rosas has asked Gov. Laura Kelly to enforce recommendations issued in this CDC report.
“They are recommendations,” he said. “They are not mandatory, but they need to be enforced. They need to be mandatory.”
In his letter to Kelly, Rosas stated, “Everyone who works inside a food processing facility needs PPE, space to social distance, access to free COVID-19 testing, and the ability to take paid leave if they become infected by this deadly virus. These critical measures are all recommended by the CDC and are more likely to happen if you issue clear guidelines supporting them.”