Foyle Food Group slaughters and processes beef products
Parts of a meat factory in Derry have been closed following another Covid-19 outbreak.
It has emerged that follow-up 'mass testing' identified additional asymptomatic employees.
Foyle Food Group (FFG) describes itself as the largest single dedicated beef processor in the UK and Ireland.
The company employs more than 1,300 staff and has a factory based at Lisahally in Campsie.
A spokesperson for FFG, also known as Foyle Meats, confirmed that due to a ‘number of employees’ testing positive for Covid-19 departments within the factory had to be closed.
It is the second time concerns have been raised about an outbreak of the virus in the local meat plant.
In October the Derry News learned that FFG was testing employees in conjunction with the Public Health Agency (PHA) and the Health and Safety Executive of Northern Ireland (HSENI) after a 'small number of staff' tested positive.
Commenting on the latest outbreak, a spokesperson said: “Over the past few days the Foyle Food Group has been working closely with the Public Health Agency, HSENI and DAERA in relation to a number of employees presenting as being positive for COVID-19.
“Following mass testing undertaken by the company a further number of asymptomatic employees were identified, as a result we have made the decision to temporarily close a department within the factory and any ancillary departments affected by that closure for a period of time.
“Individuals who have tested positive will be required to self-isolate for 10 days.
“All close contacts of positive cases will be required to self-isolate for 14 days.
“The company is working closely with the effected employees.”
Trade union, the British Medical Association (BMA), has cited slaughterhouses and meat packing plants as ‘a major risk’ for Covid-19 infection throughout the pandemic.
It says: “They affect whole communities, have far reaching implications, and require intensive public health interventions.”
Research has shown that the virus ‘thrives’ in lower temperatures inside these plants and metallic surfaces retain the virus for longer.
The BMA advised that risk assessments and various measures such as staggered start times, reducing crowding, installing barriers between workers and screening workers can assist prevention.
In order to control it early detection and ‘rapid’ testing, contact tracing and isolation are necessary.
People Before Profit Cllr Shaun Harkin said he is ‘very concerned’ for the Foyle Meats workforce.
He continued: “Workers forced to isolate or forced out of work with the virus should not be punished financially. All workers should be paid their full wages during a closure or if they're off because of the virus
“Unfortunately, meat plants have tended to be hotspots for the virus. This is why we and trade unions have called for strict adherence to health guidelines in these facilities.
“Low-paid workers have often faced the most dangerous working conditions during the pandemic.
“Management must take all appropriate action to ensure health and safety of its workers. The HSE need to act immediately. Workers have the legal right to refuse to work in an unsafe environment.
“News of a potential vaccine shouldn't lead to complacency. We encourage all Foyle Meats workers to protect themselves by joining the trade union Unite."
Foyle MLA Gary Middleton also said his office was inundated with phone calls from worried employees and the company gave assurances that affected workers will be furloughed.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Health and Safety Executive NI confirmed that the Derry factory was previously inspected but refused to expand on its findings.
“HSENI can confirm that it inspected Foyle Meats Campsie site as part of its ongoing Covid inspection program. HSENI does not comment on the specifics of individual inspections.
“We would remind all employers that they have a legal obligation to provide a safe working environment for their staff. If employees or trade unions have concerns they are encouraged to contact HSENI at email@example.com or 0800 0320 121.
“Where any organisation is dealing with an outbreak or a cluster of cases it should contact the Public Health Agency for advice and guidance on the steps it must take.
“The PHA can be contacted at 0300 555 0114 or https://www.publichealth.hscni.net/node/4802,” a spokesperson concluded.
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