Moy Park introduces range of safety measures in £2m investment
Irish News business editor Gary McDonald visits Moy Park's biggest processing plant in the north at Dungannon to see additional safety measures it has introduced since the outbreak of coronavirus
LARGE corporations are sometimes seen as fair game when it comes to doling out criticism, even if it's often unwarranted. They can often be vilified, too, in a way that obscures the innovation they utilise and the jobs they create.
Companies like Moy Park, one of Europe’s leading poultry producers, and with more than 75 years of agricultural heritage, isn't supposed to feel pain. But it clearly does . . . .
A month on from the passing of employee and East Timor national Luciana Viviana da Silva (58), the head of Moy Park's Dungannon site has been speaking for the first time about the trauma of the incident - and the claims of "acute management failures".
And in the course of the interview, head of complex Dermot Hawkins - a man who has worked for some of the world's biggest companies both in the UK and in Australia - uses the term "hurtful" on several occasions.
"Look, this was a tragic loss for a valued employee and her family, sad and so sudden," Dermot told the Irish News.
"Luciana worked her shifts as normal on the Friday and Saturday. She was hospitalised on the Sunday with a sudden illness and passed away that evening."
Nine days later Moy Park had to contend with screaming media headlines about an employee allegedly dying from coronavirus following a statement issued centrally by the Unite union.
The company subsequently labelled the union’s claims as “inaccurate”. But given sensitivities (and legalities) around talking publicly about an individual's medical data, Moy Park has not commented beyond that.
"Some of the stuff that was bandied about was hurtful," Dermot says.
"We have an excellent relationship with union representatives on the floor here, but something happened centrally with Unite which was a huge disappointment. It was frustrating.
"We've got 2,000 permanent employees on the Dungannon site and another 300 agency workers.
"There's no rule book around how a company can deal with coronavirus, but we're writing it, and we're sharing best practice from across the world."
Moy Park, which is owned by US giant Pilgrim's Pride, insists it worked quickly with all key parties - including government, industry bodies, employees and unions - as the Covid crisis unfolded.
"As a globally respected food processor we already have stringent safety measures in place," Dermot added.
"But we evolved our actions to create and implement bespoke solutions early on, including installing perspex screens; introducing social distancing/team member traffic flow on site; having staggered breaks/socially distanced restaurants; enhanced cleaning and additional PPE and incentive payments to all site based team members.
“These measures have been in place for some time at all our sites and are stringently followed. These are also exactly the type of measures that government guidance is now calling for as other industries return to work.”
And just last week Moy Park made another significant investment in thermal temperature screening technology which is now operational at the Dungannon site, part of a £2 million company-wide investment in additional safely measures to deal with the pandemic.
As employees arrive into the factory for their shift, the camera picks up a probe on their forehead and instantly reads their temperature. If it's above 37.5 degrees it triggers an alarm and that employee is isolated and asked to consent to a further test to see if he or she can work.
Dermot adds: "We're a food business, so we never want sick people at work anyway. This is an additional layer of safety, and in our first week nobody has set the alarm off."
The cameras are innocuous and the thermal testing doesn't cause any hold-ups. Indeed the sort of equipment being used at Moy Park is seen as a possible route back into ultimately having crowds back at sporting events.
Safety watchdog the HSENI confirmed that a recent unannounced inspection was carried out at Moy Park, where it said "the overall compliance with the Public Health Agency Covid-19 guidance was found to be of a high standard".
Co Down-born Dermot, who has been heading up the Dungannon site for more than a year after arriving from Ingham's, which is Australia and new Zealand's largest integrated poultry producer with more than 8,000 employees, said: "We continue to work tirelessly to protect the safety of our teams and we formally review the situation daily.
"We are incredibly proud of all our people, who truly deserve the name of being food heroes, as they aim to help feed the nation during this crisis.
"We never ever cut corners, and it's hurtful when people suggest otherwise,” Dermot added.
MOY PARK FACT FILE
• Founded in 1943 as a small farming business in Moygashel
• Operates 12 processing and manufacturing units in Northern Ireland, England, France and the Netherlands
• Processes 280 million birds a year as well as around 200,000 tonnes of prepared foods.
• Company has 12,000 employees and works with 800 farmers across Northern Ireland and Britain
• It has 35 million birds on the ground at any one time
• Sales last year topped £1.6 billion
• Ongoing strategic investment programme saw it invest £40m in 2018 and £45m last year across its sites.