BARNSLEY businesses flouting strict health and safety rules put in place to prevent the spread of coronavirus after several workplace deaths in the town have been threatened with sanctions in a bid to allay employees’ concerns.

Stephanie Peacock, MP for Barnsley East, visited Cranswick Convenience Foods in Wombwell, along with John Healey, MP for Wentworth and Dearne, after the pair raised concerns about Covid-19 cases among the plant’s workforce.

Three members of staff died as a result of the virus - and more than ten other cases have been recorded among its 1,300-strong workforce - and both MPs previously criticised the Health and Safety Executive for being too slow to react when concerns were raised about the facility.

During the visit, the MPs met with Cranswick chief executive Adam Couch, as well as the plant’s head of HR and site manager, who showed them around the facility during their visit on Monday afternoon.

“It is vital that workplaces here in Barnsley are Covid-secure, particularly those which expert scientific advice has classed as higher risk, such as meat processing plants like Cranswick in Wombwell,” Stephanie said.

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“Tragically, three members of staff at the plant have passed away, leaving three families devastated and having a profound impact on our community.

“While I was pleased to see some of the additional measures in place during our visit, I remain concerned that the Health and Safety Executive has simply acted too slowly in addressing some of the concerns which were raised previously.

“I will continue to support businesses who are operating responsibly to keep their staff safe, and I will continue to press the Health and Safety Executive to do more to inspect and sanction businesses where concerns are raised about unsafe working practices in our community here in Barnsley.”

The deaths at the factory sparked a national enquiry into such sites, thought to be hotspots for the virus due to their moist conditions, after it took inspectors a reported three months to visit the Wombwell site following the fatalities in May.

According to Mr Healey, the HSE has seen a vast drop in prosecutions and convictions, and it’s also been revealed that of its 63 site visits in April and May, none took place in South Yorkshire.

Julia Burrows, director of public health for Barnsley Council, said the local authority’s been working with the firm since April.

“Based on the information the company shared with us, we agreed that the measures they had put in place were suitable and sufficient at that time,” she said.

“We shared this information with Public Health England (PHE) and, in May, we also referred the site to the Health and Safety Executive, as the organisation that has the responsibility for enforcement of health and safety, for further investigation.

“We continue to work closely with Public Health England to provide support to the company.”