Safety investigation into COVID-19 at Cargill slaughterhouse did not include worker representation, OHS finds

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An Alberta Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) review found that Cargill did not attempt to hire worker representation while investigating the circumstances that led to the largest COVID-19-related outbreak to one establishment in Canada.

Such steps are required under the Alberta OHS Act, which requires that investigations be conducted with the participation of the joint workplace health and safety committee.

A copy of the OSH review was provided to CBC News by Local 401 of the United Food and Commercial Workers (TUAC), the union representing workers at the High Meat Processing Plant River, Alberta.

“The bottom line is that, for the first time on paper, we have OHS that validates us and repeats what we have always said … that we were not included in the process,” said Michael Hughes, spokesperson. word of the UFCW. . “This means that this plant has not been inspected in accordance with the OSH Act.

“If it has not been inspected in accordance with the OSH Act, how does it work today? “

The Cargill meat plant in southern Alberta has been associated with more than 1,500 cases of COVID-19, with nearly 950 employees tested positive. Two deaths are linked to the plant.

On May 1, the union sought a work stoppage order from OHS and filed an unfair labor practice complaint against the Cargill plant and the Government of Alberta.

The center would reopen the following Monday despite the union saying that 85 percent of workers surveyed said they were afraid to return to work.

New requirements

New requests from OHS require Cargill to:

  • Report any new infection by a worker.
  • Investigate the circumstances that led to the infection.
  • Prepare a report on these results.
  • Provide a copy of the report to the OHS and the joint site health and safety committee.

Adrienne South, spokesperson for the provincial Minister of Labor, said in an email that OHS had granted Cargill an extension until May 18 to complete its investigation with the participation of the joint site health and safety committee.

“We cannot comment further since OHS is currently conducting its ongoing investigation,” said South.

Cargill spokesman Graham White said the company will review the results in the coming days.

“The company will fully analyze the results before providing an informed public response to the investigation and any conclusions,” White said in an email to CBC News.

Previously, the company said it had implemented measures to ensure the safety of employees, including installing protective barriers on the production floor to allow more spacing between employees and introducing face shields where it doesn’t was not possible.

Workers prepare packaged beef at the Cargill facility near High River, Alberta. This image was taken by a worker before the COVID-19 pandemic. (Name hidden on request)

Labor lawyer Andrew Monkhouse said it is likely that Cargill will comply with the order, as violating it could result in further sanctions.

“They mention at the beginning [of the order] that the epidemic is a potentially serious incident. It’s well known to everyone, but it’s good that these things are taken seriously, ”he said.

“I would say it should be seen as a strong reminder by the company to make sure workers and the union are involved in important decisions that affect their safety. “

Factory workers accused the company of ignoring physical distancing protocols and of trying to induce them to return to work without isolating themselves.

A live video inspection by OHS, carried out after dozens of people at the factory were already ill, concluded that the site was safe to stay open. The video call was accompanied by a unionized UFCW worker and a shop steward, and the video was taped for later review.

The union has a hearing scheduled with the Alberta Labor Relations Board next week.

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