COVID-19, Enforcement and Inspection

California Hospitals, Police Department Cited for Failing to Protect Workforce from COVID-19

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) cited six San Francisco Bay Area employers, including hospitals, a police department, and skilled nursing facilities, for failing to protect their employees from the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). COVID-19 is a respiratory disease caused by infection of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

California and COVID-19

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State workplace safety and health agencies continue to respond to complaints and cite employers for a lack of COVID-19 protections.

“Workers in health care and public safety are at a higher risk of exposure to COVID-19 and employers must put in place measures to protect these essential personnel,” Cal/OSHA Chief Doug Parker said in an agency statement.

Healthcare facilities must comply with the state’s bloodborne pathogens standard adopted in 1992 and the aerosol transmissible diseases (ATD) standard adopted in 2009.

The ATD standard applies to hospital workers and emergency medical services, as well as workers in biological laboratories, skilled nursing facilities, workers performing cleaning and decontamination, and public safety employees who may be exposed to infectious disease hazards.

The ATD standard does not apply to most other employers in the state, and there is no corresponding federal standard.

The highest proposed penalty—$32,000—was given to the Santa Rosa Police Department. The Santa Rosa Police Department failed to implement required screening and referral procedures for persons exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms during the month of March 2020 and failed to report to Cal/OSHA multiple serious illnesses suffered by employees who contracted COVID-19. An employee died from COVID-19 after being exposed by another employee who had exhibited signs and symptoms of COVID-19. Cal/OSHA did not learn of the fatality until 2 weeks after the death.

All employers must promptly notify their local public health department of any workers with suspected cases of COVID-19. California employers also must inform Cal/OSHA of any serious illness, serious injury, or death of an employee that occurred at work or in connection with work within 8 hours of when they knew or should have known of the illness. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration has similar workplace fatality, illness, and injury reporting requirements under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970.

Cal/OSHA proposed penalties of $23,430 for the Gateway Care & Rehabilitation Center skilled nursing facility in Hayward after determining that the employer exposed nurses and housekeeping workers to COVID-19 when it failed to follow requirements for providing necessary personal protective equipment (PPE).

The agency proposed penalties of $15,000 for Sutter Bay Hospitals’ CPMC Davies Campus for not ensuring their healthcare workers in the administrative medical offices and security guards in the emergency department wore respiratory protection. Cal/OSHA noted an incident in which a suspected COVID-19 patient underwent a medical procedure in the operating room while medical staff did not have N95 masks or other proper protection.

The agency cited two facilities of the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center and proposed penalties totaling $9,710. Cal/OSHA inspectors determined that the center’s hospital on South Bascom in San Jose failed to provide effective training for its employees. The center’s North Jackson Avenue facility (also in San Jose) also was cited for failing to provide clear communication to its healthcare workers who were deployed to two skilled nursing facilities. The workers were exposed to suspected and confirmed COVID-19 patients at the Ridge Post-Acute and Canyon Springs Post-Acute facilities.

The agency also cited the Gateway Care & Rehabilitation Center, Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, and Santa Rosa Police Department for inadequate respiratory protection fit testing.

Cal/OSHA has issued and continually updated industry-specific guidance for employers since the pandemic began.