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HomeBusinessCOVID Exclusive: Coronavirus-closed United Poultry failed WorkSafeBC inspection in early 2019

COVID Exclusive: Coronavirus-closed United Poultry failed WorkSafeBC inspection in early 2019


Bob Mackin

The first British Columbia food processing plant closed by a coronavirus outbreak failed a health and safety inspection just over a year earlier, has learned.

Clifford Pollon’s United Poultry, closed by a coronavirus outbreak (Mackin)

On April 21, Provincial Health Office Dr. Bonnie Henry announced 28 people from United Poultry on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside had tested positive. There are now 35 cases of COVID-19 from the chicken plant, near Oppenheimer Park. It remains shut-down until further notice, by order of Vancouver Coastal Health.

According to documents obtained under freedom of information laws, two prevention officers from WorkSafeBC toured United Poultry on Feb. 28, 2019 and found that workers were at risk of spreading hepatitis B, the joint health and safety committee existed in name only and a supervisor had not been provided health and safety training.

“When providing first aid treatment, a first aid attendant is at risk of occupational exposure to the hepatitis B virus which may be present in the blood and/or bodily fluids of an injured worker,” the WorkSafeBC report said. “The employer stated an offer of vaccination against the hepatitis B virus has not been made to all first aid attendants in this workplace.”

The prevention officers spoke to a supervisor who did not have training to ensure the health and safety of subordinates.

“This employer has not provided the workers with adequate information, instruction, training and supervision to ensure the health and safety of those workers in carrying out their work and to ensure the health and safety of other workers at the workplace,” the report said.

As for the legally required joint employer/staff committee, the prevention officers learned that one had been struck. However, the date of its last meeting could not be confirmed, no records of meetings had been posted in the workplace, the names and work locations of the committee members had not been posted, worker representatives had not been selected for the committee and no rules for the meetings had been set.

“This employer has not established and maintained a joint health and safety committee in this workplace,” the report concluded.

Poultry tycoons Clifford (left) and Ron Pollon

The report said United employed 70 people on a production shift from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays, with maintenance and cleaning 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. Production continued Saturdays and maintenance on Sundays.

WorkSafeBC’s followup report said United began to deal with the problems identified. The supervisor was provided training, the joint health and safety committee’s first meeting was scheduled with two managers and four workers, and a first aid attendant was offered the hepatitis B shot.

United also contracted Acciona to develop a written procedure for cleaning the de-feathering drum, crane deficiencies were addressed after a report by Cinco Cranes and Equipment, and an unsafe ladder was removed from service.

Prevention officer Shannon MacDonald made a followup inspection on April 3, 2019. While the company’s annual training session took place Feb. 14, 2019, United management did not include the required anti-bullying and anti-harassment training.

“The most recent [bullying and harassment] training took place in 2018 but the exact date could not be confirmed,” the report said. “Workers hired after the annual training date in 2018 have not received the B&H training.

“An employer must provide to the employer’s workers the information, instruction, training and supervision necessary to ensure the health and safety of those workers in carrying out their work and to ensure the health and safety of other workers at the workplace.”

A session was eventually held April 19, 2019, when the company brought an external trainer who spoke both English and Chinese. An additional session was scheduled for workers unable to attend the first.

United Poultry GM George Johnsen (Facebook)

United’s website boasts the company is “fully committed to the health and safety of our clients, their customers and our team.” It also states that “to ensure that every process is followed diligently, meticulously and correctly, we have doctors and inspectors on our staff who are on site at all times.”

The WorkSafeBC inspection reports call into question those claims. Vancouver Coastal Health spokesman Matt Kieltyka said he was unable to comment, but he said the health authority believes the reference to doctors actually means veterinarians.

United Poultry general manager George Johnsen did not respond for comment before deadline.

Last month, reported exclusively that United’s sister plant in Coquitlam, Superior Poultry, failed a health and safety inspection in April 2019. As of May 8, 61 people attached to Superior had tested positive for coronavirus.

The April 2019 inspection resulted in a total 15 violation orders at the plant, where 280 workers were on-site.

Superior had ignored the statutory annual fit test for workers required to wear a respirator mask and a worker was found wearing gloves that would not protect against punctures or cuts. Superior was also unable to show records about orientation and training for new or young workers and did not have any policies, procedures or training to prevent or mitigate bullying and harassment.

Superior Poultry in Coquitlam (Google Streetview)

Regular safety inspections of the workplace were not conducted at Superior and the joint management-staff health and safety committee had not held its required monthly meeting since February 2019.

Both plants are owned by Clifford Murdie Pollon, whose companies are major players in poultry processing, farming and hatching in B.C. Pollon also owns Hallmark Farms, J.D. Sweid and Heritage Farms, and Church’s Chicken franchises across B.C.

Elections BC records show $84,710 in donations from Clifford Pollon or his companies to the BC Liberals from 2007 to 2017.

In 2017, Pollon donated $5,000 to the winning leadership campaign of Andrew Wilkinson.

Pollon has not responded for comment.

VCH spokeswoman Carrie Stefanson said the health authority is working closely with United Poultry management on the requirements needed to reopen. She said VCH has also attended Hallmark “to review the engineering, administrative controls and PPE measures, re-COVID.”

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