Cal/OSHA Issues First COVID-19 Related Citations

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In early September, the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (“Cal/OSHA”) announced that it cited 11 employers for not protecting employees from COVID-19 exposure. The inspections were conducted in industries where employees have an increased risk of exposure, including food processing, meatpacking, health care, agriculture and retail. The proposed penalties ranged from $2,025 to $51,190.

Generally, the employers were cited for not protecting workers from exposure to COVID-19 because the employers did not appropriately update their workplace safety plans to properly address hazards related to the coronavirus. Cal/OSHA provided some additional details about the conduct leading to some of the citations:

  • Two food processing plants were cited for failing to ensure their workers were physically distanced by at least six feet in the processing area, and they also did not install Plexiglas or other barriers between the workers;
  • A different food processing plant was cited for failing to implement procedures to screen employees and visitors arriving at the facility, and failing to take appropriate measures for employees who exhibited COVID-19 symptoms at the facility;
  • A medical facility was cited for failing to comply with the Aerosol Transmissible Disease standard;
  • Six agricultural employers were cited, but the news release does not provide details on the COVID-19 related citations. Some of these agricultural employers were also cited for failing to protect their workers from heat illness.

Just a week after announcing these 11 violations, Cal/OSHA announced that it had issued citations and significant proposed penalties to another food processing facility and a temporary staffing company, which provided employees to the food processing facility. Cal/OSHA issued $214,080 in proposed penalties to the temporary staffing company and $222,075 in proposed penalties to the food processing facility. Cal/OSHA provided some detail about the conduct giving rise to the citations:

  • The employers did not take any steps to install barriers or implement procedures to have employees work at least six feet away from each other. Specifically, the news alert notes the lack of physical distancing procedures among workers, including where they clock in and out of their shift, where they put on gloves and coats, in the break room, and on the conveyor line;
  • The employers did not investigate any of their employees’ COVID-19 infections, including more than 20 illnesses and one death;
  • Failure to train employees on the hazards presented by the virus;
  • Failure to communicate COVID-19 hazards to employees;
  • The meatpacking plant did not report a COVID-19 fatality to Cal/OSHA.

Cal/OSHA has been very active in investigating employers and responding to employer questions. For example, Cal/OSHA conducted nearly 8,000 compliance assistance visits in July and engaged with more than 400,000 businesses through outreach and education efforts to address questions. While the citations summarized above are the first COVID-19 related citations Cal/OSHA has issued, they will not be the last.

Cal/OSHA has provided extensive COVID-19 related guidance for employers. Employers should review these materials and ensure they are updating their Injury and Illness Prevention Program, training employees about the risks associated with COVID-19, and documenting such training. Employers should also monitor and enforce their COVID-19 procedures.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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