While a number of industries have been affected by the spread of COVID-19, certain businesses have been particularly hard hit such as a meat packing plant, for instance. They have proven to be a particularly dangerous breeding ground for the disease, leaving thousands of employees and their families exposed to the dangerous virus, a trend that has largely been attributed to close working conditions and a lack of strict safety measures. Fortunately, if you or a loved one suffered permanent injuries or death due to the Coronavirus and you contracted the virus while on the job, you could be entitled to substantial benefits. Please call one of our experienced Iowa workers’ compensation lawyers to learn more about your legal options following a workplace injury.
Why is Working in a Meat Packing Plant So Dangerous?
Over the last few months, beef, pork, and poultry processing plants across the country have
emerged as new hot spots for COVID-19, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimating that by May 1st, 5,000 packing plant employees in 19 states had fallen ill. Recent studies reveal that this number may have risen as high as 20,000 by mid-June. This alarming trend has been attributed to a few different factors that make meatpacking plant employees especially susceptible to contracting the disease. One of the CDC’s most recent reports, for instance, indicated that the chief risk to meat packing plant employees comes from being in prolonged and close proximity to other workers. In some cases, one thousand people might work in a single eight hour shift, during which the workers are required to stand shoulder to shoulder, making it difficult, if not impossible to practice protective behaviors like covering coughs and sneezes.
The frenzied pace and grueling physical demands of the work can also force employees to breathe harder, which in turn makes it more difficult to keep their masks properly positioned. A few other characteristics that are unique to the meat packing industry are also thought to play a role in the spread of the disease. The cold temperatures of the plants, for example, as well as the aggressive ventilation systems used throughout the industry to prevent meat from becoming contaminated, could also be contributing to the high rates of infection, as low temperatures allow the virus to stay viable for longer and commercial ventilation systems could be allowing infectious droplets and aerosols to travel faster through the air.
Although physical conditions inside the plants play perhaps the most important role in explaining the increasing number of COVID-19 cases amongst plant employees, they are probably not the only ones. Social and economic factors, for example, could also help account for the spread of the disease. Meat processing is exhausting and dangerous work and is often performed by recent immigrants and undocumented workers, who due to low pay are often forced to live in multigenerational homes or crowded housing. These individuals are also more likely to use company-operated transportation to get to and from work and may also lack access to testing and health care, all of which can contribute to an increased risk of exposure to COVID-19.
Which Plants Have Reported the Highest Number of COVID-19 Cases?
In May, 555 employees at a Tyson pork processing plant in Storm Lake, Iowa tested positive for COVID-19. Another Tyson plant in Waterloo was also forced to close after more than one-third of the plant’s employees tested positive. In fact, late last month, the families of three Tyson employees filed suit against the company, alleging that as the outbreak grew, the company failed to implement safety measures, falsely assured workers that the plant was safe, and allowed exposed and sick employees to stay on the production line. While Tyson has reported the most COVID-19 cases amongst employees of any business in the country, it is not the only company reporting high numbers in Iowa. The following are only a few of the locations currently being investigated:
- Tyson Foods Inc. in Council Bluffs, Iowa;
- Tyson Foods Inc. in Storm Lake, Iowa;
- Smithfield and Quality Meats in Denison, Iowa;
- OSI Industries, LLC in Oakland, Iowa; and
- Seaboard Triumph, Sioux-Preme Packing Co, Global Foods Process, and Tyson in Sioux City, Iowa.
If you or a loved one work at one of these, or another meat packing plant in Iowa, and contracted COVID-19, you could be entitled to compensation for your losses. Please call our office today to learn more.
Workers’ Compensation Claims
Meat packing plant employees who contract COVID-19 in Iowa could be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits, but only if they can prove that they were more likely than not to have contracted the illness during the course of employment. If able to establish this connection, affected employees could receive coverage for their medical expenses, as well as monetary benefits. Fortunately, the workers’ compensation system is not based on fault, so an injured worker is not required to prove that his or her injury or illness stemmed from an employer’s negligence in order to file a successful claim. It’s also important to note that the workers’ comp option is available to all meat packing employees, including those who live in other states, like Nebraska and South Dakota, as long as the injured party works at a plant located in Iowa.
While it is also still possible to file claims outside of the workers’ comp system, doing so could be difficult, especially in light of the new law passed in Iowa last month. Under this law, businesses will be shielded from liability if their employees contract COVID-19. Importantly, the law does have exceptions for injuries and illnesses that result in hospitalization or death, but despite these exceptions, could still constitute a barrier for workers struggling with COVID-19.