The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) announced it had cited 11 employers for not protecting employees from coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) exposure during the agency’s inspections of industries where workers have an elevated risk of exposure. The industries included agriculture, food processing, health care, meatpacking, and retail.
COVID-19 is a respiratory disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. A global COVID-19 pandemic was declared in March, and the disease is considered a recognizable workplace health hazard.
Several agricultural employers also were cited for violations of the state’s heat illness prevention program standard. The employers were cited for a number of violations, including some classified as serious.
“We have identified these industries as priorities in our strategic enforcement efforts to make sure employers have adequate COVID-19 infection prevention procedures in place,” Cal/OSHA Chief Doug Parker said in an agency statement.
“These are industries where workers have been disproportionately affected, and these citations are the first of many to be issued in the coming weeks and months,” Parker added.
Following a complaint-initiated inspection of DL Poultry, Inc., of Monterey Park, the employer was cited for COVID-19 and other violations. Cal/OSHA proposed penalties of $51,190. The agency proposed penalties of $9,000 following a complaint-initiated inspection of Olson Meat Company, a meatpacking facility in Orland.
D.L. Poultry and Olson Meat Company put their workers at risk for serious illness, according to the agency, because they did not ensure their workers were physically distanced at least 6 feet apart in the processing areas, nor did the employers install plexiglass or other barriers between the workers.
Sutter East Bay Medical Foundation in Berkeley was cited after an employee became ill with COVID-19. Cal/OSHA found that the employer failed to comply with the Aerosol Transmissible Disease (ATD) standard that requires proper respiratory protection in healthcare settings when transporting patients suspected of having airborne infectious diseases such as COVID-19. The agency proposed penalties of $6,750 following an employee illness-related inspection.
California’s ATD standard requires that employers protect workers at healthcare facilities and other services and operations from airborne diseases like COVID-19 and tuberculosis (TB), influenza, and pertussis (whooping cough). There is no corresponding federal standard. The ATD standard applies to correctional facilities, diagnostic laboratories, and police and public health services, as well as healthcare facilities.
The agency cited Michel Labor Services Inc. for COVID-19 and heat illness prevention violations and proposed penalties of $11,700 following an inspection of a Dixon worksite. After an enforcement task force inspection of a Vacaville agricultural worksite, Cal/OSHA cited Serve Max Farm Labor Contractor with both COVID-19 and heat illness prevention violations, seeking penalties of $11,250.
As states have lifted stay-at-home orders intended to stop the spread of COVID-19, their reopening plans often include requirements or restrictions aimed at preventing surges in infections. Governors in several states, including Michigan, Nevada, and Oregon, along with California, have instructed state workplace safety and health agencies to monitor employer compliance with their orders.
There are agencies in 22 states and territories with the authority to cite employers for failing to protect the health and safety of private, state, and local government workers.