By Carol Vaughn —
One of the two largest employers on Virginia’s Eastern Shore answered questions about the company’s response to Virginia’s new emergency workplace safety standards.
The standards were adopted July 15 by the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry’s Safety and Health Codes Board.
Tyson Foods, which has a poultry processing facility in Temperanceville, employs more than 1,200 people.
Together with the Perdue Farms facility in Accomac, more than 3,040 people work at the plants, according to Accomack County’s 2020 Annual Poultry Report.
A spokesperson said Tyson formed a coronavirus task force in January and has “put in place a host of protective steps that meet or exceed CDC and OSHA guidance for preventing COVID-19 to protect our team members.”
Spokesperson Morgan Watchous said Tyson in many cases is “ahead of new guidance with our existing practices and processes.”
“As for the new safety standards that Virginia has mandated, we’ve consistently met or exceeded CDC and OSHA guidance, on which the Virginia standard is based. We continuously review local, state and federal guidance and update our COVID-19 control plan as necessary and will do the same with the VOSH standard,” she said.
Training about COVID-19 is required for all new hires at Tyson, as the Virginia standard requires.
Training includes symptom monitoring; social distance guidelines, cleaning procedures, face mask protection, and preventive measures including staying home if an employee is not feeling well.
Updates are communicated to employees through departmental meetings, postings, communication booths set up during break times, text messages, and social media.
Specific measures Tyson has in place include:
Conducting health screenings of all employees each time they come to work, checking temperatures and for symptoms such as coughing or shortness of breath. The company has purchased more than 150 walkthrough temperature scanners.
Providing mandatory face masks to employee and also requiring face shields for certain jobs.
Implementing social distancing measures, including installing physical barriers between workstations and in break rooms, providing more break room space, marking six-foot distances in common areas, staggering start times, and having social distance monitors stationed throughout the facility during all shifts.
Regularly cleaning and disinfecting high traffic areas, such as restrooms and break rooms.
Providing education to ensure employees understand risk factors and protective measures.
Clearly posting guidance and updated COVID-19 communications in employee welfare areas.
A relaxed attendance policy encouraging symptomatic employees to stay home. Benefits have been increased, raising short term disability to 90% of base pay.
In May, 1,282 employees and contractors at the Temperanceville plant were tested for COVID-19. Of that total, 257 tested positive — most were asymptomatic.
Tyson spokesperson Worth Sparkman said the company continues to provide employees testing, using both its internal occupational health team and third-party providers.
“We have waived out-of-pocket costs, deductibles and pre-approval or preauthorization requirements for team members to receive COVID-19 testing. We also have waived co-pays for the use of telemedicine through Doctor On-Demand and relaxed refill limits for 30-day prescriptions of maintenance medication,” he said.
Watchous said employees who test positive receive paid leave and may return to work “only when they have met the criteria established by both the CDC and Tyson.”
“We disclosed test results as part of our efforts to help affected communities where we operate better understand the coronavirus and the protective measures that can be taken to help prevent its spread,” she said, adding the Temperanceville plant currently has “very few active COVID-19 cases.”
The company recently hosted the League of United Latin American Citizens at its Berry Street facility in Springdale, Ark.
The league is the nation’s oldest, largest Latino civil rights organization. Its team met with Noel White, chief executive officer of Tyson Foods, along with touring the plant.
In a press release, the league said its top priority “is taking every action we can to protect tens of thousands of workers to the fullest extent possible with what we know about the virus. It appears Tyson is making significant changes and investments to improve worker safety and America’s food supply.”
Watchous said employees may address concerns with the onsite human resources department, the occupational health department, or the safety department, or may contact the Tyson Ethics Hotline, 888-301-7304 in the United States.