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Meat plant inspections find lack of social distancing, ill-fitted masks, and asbestos

Inspections of meat processing plants by the Health and Safety Authority have raised a range of concerns.

Image: SIPA USA/PA Images

STAFF WORKING “FACE to face”, ill-fitted specialist masks, lack of social distancing, and tightly spaced locker rooms were among the issues highlighted in inspections of meat processing plants by the Health and Safety Authority (HSA).

The reports have been released by the HSA with the identity of the specific factories removed along with the dates of the inspection.

In one report, multiple issues were highlighted with face coverings not being used across the site, especially in areas where social distancing could not be observed.

Staff wearing specialist masks had them “ill-fitted” or worn incorrectly while “pinch points” where staff were congregating were observed at hygiene stations, locker rooms, as well as entrances and exits.

Another report warned of “potential cross contamination” of masks in the area they were being handed out while the factory was told to ensure a “minimum level of acceptable protective equipment” was in place.

One report said that “operatives” had been seen working at close quarters especially in the retail area of the meat processing plant.

“Some were face to face or back to back and also in the packing area where limited screens were provided,” added the report.

Another report also flagged issues with workers “facing each other across the line” in several different areas of the plant. Concerns were also raised over improper use of face coverings at multiple locations in the plant.

One report said: “Ensure that protective face coverings provided are consistent with the HSE guidelines and that they are properly worn to provide optimal protection.”

Another report highlighted a lack of adequate signage. “Ensure that information is provided in a form, manner and language, which can be understood by all employees,” it said.

Many of the meat processing plants were told to watch especially for how social distancing was being managed on their premises.

“Particular attention should be given to areas where employees congregate, in particular but not limited to corridors, canteens, locker rooms, and smoking areas,” said a number of the reports.

Another report flagged “tight groupings” in locker rooms saying the plant should consider whether some should be moved to provide extra space.

It added: “Review the level of protective equipment provided and used in the area to the rear of the boning hall where a tight group was observed.”

Canteens also featured in multiple reports with advisories issued on people being seated too close together.

The advice said: “Review the number and location of seats in the canteen area to comply with the current 2 metre social distance guidelines.”

Another canteen was criticised for not having hand sanitisation facilities at its entrance. “These were absent at entrance to two temporary canteen areas at time of my inspection,” said the report.

One meat processor was told it needed to have a “trained individual” in charge of screening at the site entrance for temperature screening and social distancing.

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It was also told that additional hand sanitiser stations needed to be put in place with none at “entry to [a] canteen located in marquee area”.

Not all issues related to Covid-19, with one plant found to have hazardous chemicals being stored in an open container.

“Asbestos roofing was observed throughout the site,” the report added saying arrangements to minimise exposure needed to be detailed.

Another plant was also found to have asbestos roofing in an animal lairage area which was “observed to be in poor condition”.

The records were released to transparency group Right to Know following an appeal to the Information Commissioner.

A statement from the Health and Safety Authority said they had originally withheld the records when they were involved in local and national Covid-19 outbreak control teams.

“The circumstances that influenced the decision … have since changed and these changes are based on the government’s response to Covid-19 outbreaks in meat processing plants,” they said.

“In particular, the earlier public health programme under which the meat processing plant inspections … were conducted has now been completed.” They said they had submitted a report on that to NPHET.

About the author:

Ken Foxe

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