Cal/OSHA has been conducting sweeps of employers in California to root out those who are not protecting their workers from COVID-19 exposure.

The agency targeted companies in industries that have a heightened risk of exposure to the coronavirus, which resulted in 11 citations being issued.

While Cal/OSHA has been inspecting facilities since April for COVID-19-related infractions, the recent sweeps are part of a new targeted and ongoing enforcement effort that California employers should be aware of.

For an example of what’s at stake for employers who fail to institute protective measures to reduce the chances of coronavirus transmission among their workers, check out the largest fines levied by Cal/OSHA so far.

The citations were issued on a temporary employment agency, Jobsource North America Inc., and frozen-food maker Overhill Farms Inc., which face more than $200,000 each in proposed penalties for allegedly failing to protect hundreds of workers at two poultry plants in Vernon.

The citations were from separate inspections conducted in April, and not part of the recent sweeps.

Cal/OSHA inspected the facilities after receiving an anonymous complaint from a worker at one of the plants. It found hundreds of workers were exposed to the coronavirus due to the lack of physical distancing procedures among workers.

As a result of the investigation, the agency cited the companies for:

  • Failing to install barriers or implement procedures to have employees work at least 6 feet away from each other.
  • Not investigating any of their employees’ COVID-19 infections (which included 20 cases of infection among the two employers and one death at Overhill Farms).
  • Failure by both employers to train employees on the hazards presented by the virus.
  • Failing to report a COVID-19 fatality to Cal/OSHA (Overhill Farms).

The COVID-19-related violations cited at the two plants involve $214,080 in proposed penalties to Jobsource, and $222,075 in proposed penalties to Overhill Farms.

The most recent sweeps

In the most recent sweeps, the agency cited 11 employers for not protecting employees from COVID-19 exposure. Proposed penalties for those firms range from $2,025 to $51,190, according to Cal/OSHA.

Most of the citations were for failing to protect workers from exposure to COVID-19 because the businesses did not take steps to update their workplace safety plans to properly address hazards related to the coronavirus.

The citations were issued on firms in the following sectors:

  • Food processing
  • Health care
  • Agriculture
  • Supermarkets
  • Employment agencies and labor services.

All of the inspections that led to citations were launched after:

  • Employees became seriously ill,
  • Cal/OSHA received complaints about workplace conditions, or
  • Joint enforcement efforts.

The takeaway

Word from Cal/OSHA is that it is continuing to conduct targeted inspections, as well as respond to complaints from insiders about employers who may not be taking steps to protect their workers.

The best way for your firm to avoid penalties is to follow Cal/OSHA and state guidelines for protecting your workers against COVID-19. You can find those here.

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