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Governor: Iowa OSHA acted appropriately on Tyson complaint



FILE - Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds updates the state's response to the coronavirus outbreak during a news conference at the State Emergency Operations Center, Thursday, April 16, 2020, in Johnston, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, pool)

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Safety regulators acted appropriately when they declined to conduct an inspection at a Tyson Foods pork plant in Iowa before hundreds of workers tested positive for the coronavirus, Gov. Kim Reynolds said Tuesday.

Iowa Occupational Safety and Health records, reported Monday by The Associated Press, show the agency received an April 11 complaint alleging the virus was spreading on the production floor and in the cafeteria at the Tyson plant in Perry.

The agency didn’t alert Tyson to the complaint until April 20 and closed the inquiry April 28 after determining that the company’s response outlining safety efforts at the plant was satisfactory. Iowa OSHA declined to inspect the plant, citing federal guidance at the time that said most coronavirus complaints should not require on-site visits.

On May 5, the Iowa Department of Public Health announced 730 workers at the plant tested positive for coronavirus, or 58% of its 1,250 workers.

Reynolds noted that the April 11 complaint originally came in on a Saturday. She said Iowa OSHA reached out to Tyson within one work week and determined the complaint didn’t warrant a site visit because of the company’s proactive measures.

“It appears that they followed normal and their appropriate process,” she said.

Critics have accused state regulators of responding too slowly and not forcefully enough to the complaint, saying they failed to protect workers. U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne has demanded an investigation into Iowa OSHA’s handling of the matter.

Meanwhile, Tyson Foods released documents Tuesday showing it responded to the complaint April 22 with an undated letter from its plant manager — days earlier than reflected in OSHA’s file.

An Iowa OSHA industrial hygienist thanked Tyson officials “for your diligence” in responding two days after being notified of the complaint, which alleged workers were not social distancing anywhere.

Tyson said in a statement that it had taken steps to protect Perry employees before learning of the complaint, including taking worker temperatures, encouraging them to wear face coverings and installing workstation dividers.

Reynolds said the complaint was closed during a week when Tyson temporarily suspended production at the plant after conducting mass testing of workers.

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