| 24°C Belfast

Staff coronavirus fears led to health inspection at Omagh Meats plant

Close

Ulster Unionist councillor Chris Smyth

Ulster Unionist councillor Chris Smyth

Ulster Unionist councillor Chris Smyth

A major meat processing plant in Co Tyrone has undergone a health and safety inspection after a coronavirus outbreak, it can be revealed.

It follows a high volume of complaints from concerned workers about Covid-19 prevention policies at Omagh Meats, which is owned by Foyle Food Group Ltd.

The company said a number of its employees had tested positive but denied claims that 40 staff have been struck down by coronavirus.

Health and Safety Executive (HSENI) inspectors visited the premises on the Doogary Road on May 7, according to official documentation seen by this newspaper.

UUP councillor Chris Smyth, who raised concerns about the plant, said he was pleased that action had been taken to address them.

"It is good that the HSENI have acted and completed an unannounced inspection," he said.

"The inspection has clearly raised a number of issues and it's essential that HSENI follow this up so the action points raised are acted upon so that safety of employees can be respected as they complete this essential task of putting food on our tables."

The revelation that an unannounced visit had taken place followed news that an employee at Moy Park in Dungannon had died after contracting Covid-19.

East Timor native Luciana Viviana da Silva, who was also known as Anoy Soriano, was 58.

She is understood to be the first meat processing worker to succumb to the virus, but a union representative has warned that meat and poultry factories in Northern Ireland, particularly those in the Mid Ulster area, "could become the next scenario to what's been happening in care homes".

Sean McKeever from Unite also said that industry-wide mass testing must now be carried out without delay.

"I am waiting on the First and Deputy First Ministers to confirm their position on this," he said.

"We need private companies in there doing tests to prevent more deaths.

"It can't happen soon enough."

In response to the Belfast Telegraph, Leslie Otterson, group HR and health and safety manager at Omagh Meats, said: "I will confirm that we do not have near 40 positive cases."

A company statement said some of its employees tested positive but did not provide specific numbers.

"We can confirm that a number of employees at our Omagh site have confirmed positive for Covid-19," it said.

"We are providing full support to these employees, who are no longer attending for work.

"Other employees who have been in contact with any affected employees are also being tested.

"We continue to operate the strictest hygiene controls, which includes all our sites being deep cleaned on a daily basis.

"Social distancing has also been implemented, which is being supervised and audited on a continual basis."

Foyle Food Group has operated here for more than 40 years and employs more than 1,400 people across Ireland and Britain.

The food industry issued its own guidance on measures for factories.

It was followed up with similar recommendations produced by an Executive-established committee involving employers, trade unions, the Public Health Agency and the HSENI.

They included the need for two-metre distancing, the provision of personal protective equipment where necessary, and the installation of partitions where social distancing could not be achieved.

Meanwhile, poultry giant Moy Park has said the health and wellbeing of its workforce is its most important consideration.

It also sent condolences to the family of the worker at its Dungannon processing plant who died after contracting Covid-19.

The company issued the statement after Unite wrote to the First and Deputy First Ministers to demand testing for workers in the poultry and meatpacking sector.

Unite said urgent action is needed by Stormont after reports of clusters of infection at a growing number of sites.

The union said that Moy Park's plant in Dungannon should be shut temporarily to allow the workforce and their families to be tested if necessary, and for the HSENI to conduct physical inspections of meat processing sites to assess infection controls.

Moy Park said: "We are deeply saddened to learn of the death of one of our team members.

"Our thoughts are with Luciana's family and friends at this incredibly difficult time.

"As we have consistently stated, the health, wellbeing and safety of our Moy Park team members is always our most important consideration."

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said her thoughts were also with the family of Ms da Silva.

"This guidance has been put in place to protect workers, to make sure that companies can adjust their working practices to give that support to them," she explained.

"It's really, really important that any worker who feels that they are not in a safe environment, that they flag that up with their employer.

"If they're not getting a resolution [it's important] that they flag it up with the HSE.

"It's important that we protect the workers."

The HSENI said it is currently carrying out unannounced inspections to businesses across Northern Ireland.

A statement confirmed that an inspection had taken place at Moy Park.

"Priority is being given to sectors such as food processing companies and sites where repeated complaints have been received," the company said.

"We can confirm that a recent unannounced inspection was carried out at a Moy Park meat processing plant.

"A few minor issues were found (by inspectors), but the overall compliance with the Public Health Agency's Covid-19 guidance was found to be of a high standard."

Belfast Telegraph