Meat plants ‘could be directed to close’ in cases of ‘substantial threat’ – HSE

Meat plants could be directed to close their premises and cease business activity if the Health Service Executive (HSE) sees evidence of “a substantial threat”.

A HSE spokesperson told AgriLand that all facilities that have outbreaks are continuously monitored by their ‘outbreak control team’, which have been put in place at these plants by the health service.

“If there is evidence of a substantial threat to the health and well-being of employees, customers or service users that is not being adequately mitigated by control measures, a company could be directed to close their premises and cease business activity temporarily,” the spokesperson said.

There is no numerical threshold (in terms of numbers of cases) for the closure of plants. Rather, such a decision would be based on a risk assessment at the plant in question.

This confirmation comes after it was revealed that there are currently 15 meat plants experiencing Covid-19 ‘clusters’ that the HSE is aware of.

Anne O’Connor, the HSE’s chief operations officer, said over the weekend that there is a regional multi-agency outbreak control team in place for each of those clusters, while the national multi-agency outbreak control team has issued “interim guidance” for the prevention and control of Covid-19 across all meat processing facilities.

O’Connor also confirmed that the HSE has been carrying out mass swabbing in some affected plants.

At present, there are understood to have been over 600 cases of Covid-19 detected at meat plants throughout the county.

Worker safety ‘not being prioritised’

Meanwhile, the Migrant Rights Centre of Ireland (MRCI) has said that it has been approached by workers from various meat factories who claim that their safety at work “has not been prioritised by their employers”.

Migrant workers make up a large proportion of the workforce in the meat processing industry.

“Workers are frightened and angry and unsure of what procedures are in place to protect them. At the beginning of the lockdown some employers were very slow to put in place safety measures…which resulted in a lot of exposure between staff during that time, potentially resulting in a greater number of cases to date,” the MRCI remarked.

“The MRCI is very concerned that clusters across the meat sector have not been fully or consistently responded to,” the organisation argued, calling for plants where Covid-19 has been detected to be closed for a two-week period.