In July 2020, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited a workplace for failing to protect employees from the coronavirus. This was the first coronavirus-related fine levied by OSHA. According to the agency, the healthcare company was in violation of two respiratory protection standards:
- failing to develop a comprehensive written respiratory protection program; and
- failing to provide medical evaluations to determine employees’ ability to use a respirator in the workplace.
Due to the violations, OSHA proposed a fine of over $40,000. Since this initial case, OSHA has continued on the quest to make sure employees are being protected from COVID-19. This is evident in the fact that in the first half of September, OSHA has cited an additional five workplaces claiming coronavirus protection failures.
Latest Enforcement Cases
On September 10th, 2020, OSHA announced the following citations:
- Smithfield Packaged Meats Corp. in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, for one violation of OSHA’s General Duty Clause. The employer failed to provide a workplace free from recognized hazards that can cause death or serious harm. At least 1,294 Smithfield workers contracted coronavirus, and four employees died from the virus in the spring of 2020. Much of the cases were due to spread at the workplace facilities. The company faces a penalty of $13,494.
- Christus Shreveport-Bossier Health System in Shreveport, Louisiana, for failing to provide proper protective equipment. The agency found that emergency facility employees often shared or did not have protective gowns. Professionals need to wear these gowns to treat COVID-19-positive patients. The business also faces a penalty of $13,494.
OSHA continued citing employers on September 11th, 2020:
- JBS Foods Inc. in Greeley, Colorado, for violating the General Duty Clause involving the coronavirus. The business was also fined for failing to provide the company’s authorized employee representative with injury and illness logs in a timely manner following a May 2020 OSHA inspection. OSHA has proposed $15,615 in penalties.
- Hackensack Meridian Health Residential Care Inc. in North Bergen, New Jersey, for failure to provide respirators to resident-care employees for a period of time in March 2020. These employees were caring for residents who were exhibiting symptoms of coronavirus. OSHA also cited the employer for failure to conduct respirator fit testing, effective training, and compliant medical evaluations. OSHA also cited the facility for failure to establish a fit-test record for qualitative fit tests. The agency has proposed $28.070 in penalties.
- CarePlus Bergen Inc., in Paramus, New Jersey, for violating respiratory protection standards. Based on a coronavirus-related inspection, OSHA cited the facility for failing to fit test tight-fitting face piece respirators on required employees. The hospital also failed to train employees on proper respirator use and ensure employees understood when to wear a respirator. These violations have a proposed penalty amount of $9,639.
As explained by OSHA in guidance released in May, the agency issued two revised policies for enforcing their requirements with respect to COVID-19. First, OSHA has increased in-person inspections at all different types of workplaces. Secondly, the agency is enforcing their recordkeeping requirements of standard 29 CFR 1904 for employee coronavirus illnesses for all employers. To avoid OSHA fines and penalties, and to keep all employees safe, employers need to be familiar with required OSHA safety and health protocols not only during the pandemic, but for when the pandemic has also passed.