Three members of staff have died as a result of COVID-19 at Cranswick’s sliced meat factory at Wombwell, in Barnsley, the pork processor has confirmed.
In total, nine employees tested positive for the virus at the site, which employs around 1,200 people, three of which sadly died. Of the other six, one is making a good recovery in hospital and the rest have either returned to work or are due to return soon.
The outbreaks occurred earlier in the COVID-19 epidemic – the workers who died had last been on the site on March 29, April 6 and April 7. There have been no confirmed cases recently at the site, which has continued to operate, with revised processes and protocols in place that have satisfied the relevant authorities.
In a statement, a Cranswick spokesperson said: “The health and safety of all of our colleagues is our number one priority and we are doing everything we can to protect our workforce. Sadly, three of our colleagues have passed away with COVID-19.
“Our thoughts and condolences are with their families and we are providing full support to them and to all of our colleagues directly affected by COVID-19.”
The spokesperson said the company had, from the outset of the pandemic, ‘implemented additional measures to protect both the physical and mental wellbeing of our people’.
These include social distancing measures where practical at all 16 of Cranswick’s sites, additional cleaning and hygiene measures and recommended PPE for all employees in line with PHE and WHO guidelines, recently including optional face visors for production staff to provide added reassurance.
The company has offered support such as counselling and occupational health services to employees. All employees have been told not to attend work if they, or anyone they live with, have any symptoms.
“We continue to work with the relevant regulatory bodies including the HSE (Health & Safety Executive), PHE (Public Health England), the FSA (Food Standards Agency) and local EHO representatives (Environmental Health Officers) during these challenging times,” the spokesperson said.
Aside from the cluster of cases at Wombwell, there have been very few cases elsewhere across the Cranswick network.
The spokesperson said the company’s staff has ‘provided an amazing service during a very difficult period’ and that the focus would continue to he on ensuring their wellbeing.
“Cranswick employees are designated key workers and are at the forefront of maintaining vital supplies of fresh food into the supermarkets. We are doing everything we can to protect them while they carry out this critical role,” he said.
While there have been incidents of staff absences due to COVID-19 at meat plants across the UK, the UK meat sector has, in general, not been as badly affected as in some countries across Europe.
Several German abattoirs and processing plants have had to close as hundreds cases among employees, as the authorities have deployed a proactive testing regime tested employees at slaughterhouses.
In some plants, around one-third of employees have tested positive, including 400 from a workforce of 1,100 at a Müller-Fleisch plant in Birkenfeld, and 90 out of 280 employees at Danish Crown’s Westcrown plant, in Germany.
The outbreaks have put the spotlight on conditions within the German meat sector. On Wednesday, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet agreed a draft proposal preventing subcontractors, largely migrant workers, from working at processing meat plants from January 2021, the BBC reports.
A Vion plant in the Netherlands closed after 45 workers tested positive for COVID-19.
Cases are also increasing in western France, where more than 100 infections were recently reported at two separate slaughterhouses, the BBC reports.
But the worst affected country appears to be the US where the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) estimates that 40% of US pork processing capacity has been lost due to plant closures.
The US National Pork Producers Council has warned of a ‘severe back-up of pigs on farms’, with producers warning that millions of pigs might have to be euthanised on farm.