Inspections, Complaints, and Accidents Unveil COVID Safety Violations at Food Companies

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued a number of citations to food companies for failing to protect workers from COVID-19. The food industry workforce has been identified as having an elevated risk of exposure to the virus. Citations were issued to food processors, meatpackers, agricultural entities, and retailers.

September 4, 2020

Citations issued by: California’s Department of Industrial Relations (CAL)/OSHA

What Happened

Eleven employers were cited for not protecting employees from COVID-19 exposure during inspections. They did not take steps to update their workplace safety plans to properly address hazards related to the virus.

Inspection Types

Complaint-initiated; accident-initiated; enforcement effort. Some were classified as serious, with proposed penalties ranging from $2,025 to $51,190

Examples of Violations

Failure to practice social distancing in processing areas

Failure to install Plexiglass or other barriers between workers

Failure to screen employees and visitors arriving at the facility

Failure to take appropriate measures for employees who exhibited COVID symptoms while at work

“We have identified these industries as priorities in our strategic enforcement efforts to make sure employers have adequate COVID-19 infection prevention procedures in place,” says CAL/OSHA chief Doug Parker. “These are industries where workers have been disproportionately affected, and these citations are the first of many to be issued in the coming weeks and months.”

September 9, 2020

Citation issued by: California’s Department of Industrial Relations (CAL)/OSHA

What Happened

Citations were issued to Overhill Farms Inc., a frozen food manufacturer, (and their temporary employment agency, Jobsource North America Inc.) A $222,075 penalty for Overhill Farms and a $214,080 penalty for Jobsource were proposed for each party’s role in failing to protect hundreds of employees from COVID at two plants. (An additional $14,450 penalty for Overhill Farms was proposed for non-COVID related violations.)

CAL/OSHA found hundreds of employees were exposed to serious illness from COVID-19 due to the lack of physical distancing procedures among workers including where they clock in and out of their shift, at the cart where they put on gloves and coats, in the break room, on the conveyor line, and during packing operations. At the larger of the two facilities CAL/OSHA identified 330 employees at Overhill Farms and 60 Jobsource employees were exposed to the virus from the lack of physical distancing. At the smaller facility, CAL/OSHA found 80 Overhill Farms workers and 40 Jobsource workers did packing operations, worked in the marinating area and processed raw poultry without any distancing procedures or protective barriers in place.

Inspection type: Complaint-initiated

Examples of Violations

Failure to install barriers or implement social distancing procedures

Failure to train employees on virus hazards

Failure to investigate more than 20 employees’ COVID infections, including one death that went unreported to OSHA.

“It is critical that employers evaluate the workplace and take proactive measures to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 in the workplace,” said Cal/OSHA Chief Doug Parker. “If a COVID-19 illness occurs, employers must investigate the case to determine if additional protective measures should be taken and report the serious illnesses and deaths to Cal/OSHA.  Employers should also notify workers of possible exposure and report outbreaks to county public health officials.”

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