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Cranswick confirms deaths of three employees from COVID-19

21st May 2020 / By Alistair Driver

Cranswick WombwellCranswick has confirmed the deaths of three members of staff from COVID-19 at its sliced meat factory at Wombwell, in Barnsley.

A total of nine employees have tested positive for the virus at the site, which employs around 1,200 people. 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.

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 cases all happened earlier in the COVID-19 outbreak. The most recent dates the workers who died had been on the site were March 29, April 6 and April 7. There have been no confirmed cases recently and the site has continued to operate without having to close, with revised processes and protocols in place that have satisfied the relevant authorities.

“From the outset of the pandemic, we implemented additional measures to protect both the physical and mental wellbeing of our people,” the spokesperson added.

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.    

He said the company’s staff has ‘provided an amazing service during a very difficult period’. “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.

Aside from the cluster of cases at Wombwell, there have been very few cases elsewhere across the Cranswick network.

EU situation

While there have been incidents of staff absences due to COVID-19 at meat plants across the UK, the UK meat sector has not been as badly affected as in some countries across Europe, with plant closures reported in the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany.

A Vion plant in the Netherlands closed after 45 workers tested positive for COVID-19.

Several German abattoirs have had to close because of cases among employees. It is reported that there have been hundreds of cases among food and meatpacker workers, as the authorities have tested employees at slaughterhouses.

Danish Crown temporarily closed its Skærbæk slaughterhouse in Southern Jutland, in Denmark, following the confirmation of coronavirus among staff at its Westcrown plant, in Germany, where tests showed 90 out of 280 employees were positive, resulting in the suspension of production, Global Meat News reported.

Tests at another German plant, Müller-Fleisch in Birkenfeld, showed 400 people tested positive from a workforce of 1,100, forcing the plant to close.

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.

US crisis

But the hardest hit country is 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 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.

President Donald Trump has issued an order compelling plants to stay open where possible, amid warning of US meat shortages.

During the latest NPA Pig Industry Group COVID-19 issues forum, members of the group with US contacts reported that production was starting to return to something like normality, however.