Communication barriers at shuttered Smithfield meat plant where employees speak 40 languages helped turn the South Dakota factory into coronavirus hotspot with 800 cases, CDC says

Friday, April 24, 2020
By Paul Martin

CDC issued its report on the Smithfield pork plant in South Dakota this week
Plant became hotspot with more than 800 employees contracting coronavirus
It was shut down indefinitely this month after accounting for half state’s cases
Report says language barriers an issue at plant where 40 languages are spoken
Recommends further distancing measures in locker rooms and time clocks
Questions whether incentive bonuses encouraged employees to come in sick
At least a dozen meat packing plants in the US have closed this month

24 April 2020

Language barriers were a key issue at the Smithfield meat processing plant that was shuttered earlier this month after a coronavirus outbreak infected 800 employees, according to a report from the Centers for Disease control and Prevention.

The CDC report issued this week criticized a number of practices at the plant in Sioux Falls, which processed 5 percent of the nation’s pork before it was shuttered indefinitely on April 15.

The massive plant employing 3,500 is just one of a dozen American meat packing plants to shut down this month after outbreaks, spurring pork and beef shortages and higher prices for consumers.

The CDC report says that at the Sioux Falls plant, which has a large immigrant workforce, some 40 different languages are spoken, with the top 10 being English, Spanish, Kunama, Swahili, Nepali, Tigrinya, Amharic, French, Oromo, and Vietnamese.

‘Management expressed that communicating messages to their diverse staff presented challenges due to the number of languages spoken,’ the report says, noting that this raised issues in rolling out new sanitation and social distancing guidelines.

The CDC recommended that the plant add more posters with pictograms and using additional languages to communicate vital information to the workforce.

The CDC memo specifically addressed the situation at the Smithfield Foods plant in Sioux Falls but that also may give an indication of the broader recommendations that the agency is working on for meat processing plants nationwide.

Smithfield closed the plant indefinitely because of the outbreak and faced complaints that it wasn’t doing enough to protect its workers.

A CDC team toured the plant last week and reported that the company had slowed down production lines to space workers farther apart and installed about 800 Plexiglas barriers along the lines.

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