After issuing emergency regulations in November, Cal/OSHA began to step up its enforcement of COVID-19 protections in California workplaces.
The types of business being cited cut across many sectors. Although most are focused on health care settings, the inspections are also sweeping up retailers, restaurants, fitness centers, agricultural operations, food processing, and other manufacturing settings.
Since it issued the emergency regs to provide a framework for employers to reduce risks of their workers contracting COVID-19 while on the job, the workplace safety enforcement agency has issued citations to 75 employers, with proposed penalties totaling more than $1.54 million. Most employers were cited for multiple COVID-19-related infractions.
Since Cal/OSHA started inspecting companies for failing to implement coronavirus safeguards last summer, it has issued $3.3 million worth of proposed penalties in total.
The most common related infractions are for:
- Failing to effectively establish, implement and maintain procedures to correct unhealthy conditions related to COVID-19 that affected a business’s employees.
- Failing to notify Cal/OSHA of a COVID-19 fatality.
- Failing to create a proper safety program.
What’s prompting inspections
Obviously, no employer wants to see an OSHA official knocking at their door, but there is usually a reason they are there. Based on an analysis of the most recent group of citations, Cal/OSHA is mostly showing up for COVID-19 inspections for the following reasons:
- A complaint – Often it’s either staff or a customer that contacts Cal/OSHA to complain about poor COVID-19 protections, as was the case when it received a complaint about BSF Fitness in Ventura.
Upon inspection, Cal/OSHA determined that the employer was not enforcing face-covering use and physical distancing in its gym. The agency said the employer had failed to effectively establish, implement and maintain procedures to correct unhealthy conditions related to COVID-19 that affected its employees. It was cited for one willful-serious, two serious and six general category violations.
Proposed penalties: $57,740.
- A news report – Cal/OSHA cited Cardenas Market in Oakland for multiple violations, including three serious-category violations. This followed an inspection opened after learning from media coverage of an outbreak where 17 workers tested positive for COVID-19, including one person who was hospitalized due to complications from the infection.
Cal/OSHA determined that Cardenas Market had failed to adequately address the potential outbreak of the coronavirus among workers by implementing preventative measures. The business did not initially implement or require face coverings or masks, physical distancing or training of workers on coronavirus hazards. Cardenas Market also failed to immediately report a COVID-19-related serious illness.
Proposed penalties: $30,670.
- A fatality – Grimmway Enterprises, Inc. was cited for multiple violations including two serious-category violations, following a fatality-initiated inspection when an employee was hospitalized and died from COVID-19 after working at a carrot field in Holtsville.
Cal/OSHA found that the employer had not implemented methods or procedures to correct unhealthy conditions or work practices relating to COVID-19 that affected its employees working outdoors, and had failed to provide its employees effective training and instruction on the hazards of COVID-19.
Proposed penalties: $30,600.
- An accident – Sometimes Cal/OSHA shows up to conduct an inspection of an accident unrelated to the coronavirus and finds COVID-19-related infractions as well. This happened with Carter’s Children’s Wearin Gilroy.
Cal/OSHA cited the retailer for one regulatory and one serious citation following an accident inspection. It found that the employer had failed to immediately report a COVID-19-related serious illness, and to establish, implement and maintain an effective Injury Illness Prevention Program.
Proposed penalties: $15,125.
As you can see, Cal/OSHA will inspect any employer for possible infractions, particularly if there are complaints or news about an outbreak at a workplace. If you have not already done so and you have staff working at a physical location, you should immediately establish safeguards that are in line with Cal/OSHA’s emergency regulations.
Remember too: Those regulations not only require you to protect workers against COVID-19 but to also report to Cal/OSHA and other authorities anytime there is an outbreak or a case in your workplace.