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Coronavirus Deaths and Lax OSHA Enforcement

May 10, 2020

Washing hands, Author Beat Ruest (CC BY-SA 4.0 International)

As we struggle to flatten the coronavirus curve and reduce deaths from COVID-19, lax enforcement by the Office of Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) may actually be a factor contributing to such deaths [1].

Infectious Disease Standards

In 2005 the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) petitioned OSHA for a rule addressing pandemic influenza [2].  In 2009 AFSCME sought a rule addressing occupational exposure to infectious diseases.

OSHA had already put controls in place for bloodborne pathogens that required hepatitis vaccinations by healthcare workers; the use of masks and gloves; and the disposal of contaminated needles.  Before that, hepatitis had killed 300 workers annually.

Trump Administration Cutbacks

When the Trump Administration came to power, OSHA’s agenda changed.  Rule-making and oversight were put on hold.  The focus was now placed on rolling back existing regulations.

Currently, OHSA has the lowest level of inspections in 50 years.

Coronavirus and Meat Plant Workers

Meat workers are stationed in close proximity to one another.  Enhanced cleaning and social distancing of workers slow production, so are not always attractive to plant operators.

Over 640 cases of coronavirus have been linked to a single Smithfield pork factory in South Dakota [3].  Four workers at a Tyson chicken processing plant in Georgia have died from the virus; two more have died and 186 tested positive at a Tyson pork plant in Iowa [4][5].

Cargill, Sanderson Farms, and Perdue have all reported illness [6].

Any coronavirus incentives aside, the average wage of meat plant workers is a mere $11.44/hour or $23,790 annually.  Despite that, meat workers at a Wayne Farms chicken processing plant in Alabama are required to pay their employer 10 cents per day for protective masks [7].

State Workplace Safety Programs

Half the states operate workplace safety programs in place of OSHA’s.  Per federal law, these must be at least as stringent as OSHA’s.  Only California’s program, however, has infectious disease regulations.

Cal/OSHA’s Aerosol Transmissible Diseases standards apply not only to medical facilities, but to correctional facilities, drug treatment programs, and homeless shelters.

Among other things, they mandate that employees wash their hands with soap and water or use hand sanitizer when they arrive at work and leave.  They urge administrators to train employees on how the coronavirus is spread.

Simple, really.

One can only wonder how many lives might have been saved had similar standards been enforced nationwide.

Whoever oppresses the poor to increase his own wealth, or gives to the rich, will only come to poverty” (Prov. 22: 16 ESV).

[1]  Forbes, “Worker Dangers Up as Trump OSHA Cuts Come Home to Roost, Say AFL-CIO Exec., Ex-DOL Official” by Ted Knutson, 4/1/20,

[2]  OSHA, “Infectious Diseases SER Background Document”,

[3]  New York Times, “South Dakota Meat Plant Is Now Country’s  Biggest Coronavirus Hot Spot” by Caitlin Dickerson and Miriam Jordan, 4/15/20,

[4]  The Guardian, ” ‘If one of us gets sick, we all get sick’: the food workers on the coronavirus front line” by Mya Frazier, 4/17/20,

[5]  Philadelphia Inquirer, “Tyson foods says four of its Georgia poultry workers have died of coronavirus” by Russ Bynum (Associated Press), 4/17/20,

[6]  Bloomberg, “Deaths Expose Fears for Strength of US Food-Supply Chain” by Isis Almeida and Lydia Mulvaney, 4/8/20,

[7]  Reuters, ” ‘Elbow to elbow’:  North America meat plant workers fall ill, walk off jobs” by Tom Polansek and Rod Nickel, 4/13/20,


  1. Francisco Bravo Cabrera permalink

    Very interesting and disturbing information, Anna, story by story, article by article, the truth will come out that the Trump administration acted irresponsibly, and that the rich will greatly benefit from the reaction to this virus. Great post and I applaud your efforts to publish clear, concise and important articles. All the best Anna. Greetings from Spain

  2. Though not in the USA (my late mom was born and raised in S. Dakota, of German settler stock), let me say again that I so appreciate your heart in this matter of justice and mercy. We salute you and everyone else with that same mind and spirit. Micah 6:8 is one of my favourite OT passages, ‘He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?‘ (NRSV) We try to do our little bit here in South Africa among the poorest of the poor.

  3. Great post Anna,
    I have read reports of workers who felt they were risking their health..
    The average food production line is close quarters..

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