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Food Firm, Temp Agency Fined for COVID-19 Safety Lapses

Image courtesy of Pixabay covid-19-4961257_1920.jpg
A frozen food manufacturer and a temporary employment agency failed to protect workers from hazards related to the virus.

Frozen food manufacturing company Overhill Farms Inc. and its temporary employment agency Jobsource North America Inc. received citations from Cal/OSHA for failing to protect workers from COVID-19 hazards at two production facilities in Vernon, CA. The state of California’s occupational safety agency announced Wednesday that each company was fined over $200,000.

Cal/OSHA said the companies failed to install barriers or put procedures into place that ensured employees were working at least 6” away from one another. Overhill Farms and Jobsource North America also did not investigate any of the COVID-19 infections found among staff at the two plants – which included more than 20 cases. One employee of Overhill Farms died.

“It is critical that employers evaluate the workplace and take proactive measures to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 in the workplace,” Cal/OSHA Chief Doug Parker said in a release. “If a COVID-19 illness occurs, employers must investigate the cause 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.”

An investigation was opened on April 28 after Cal/OSHA received complaints of COVID-19-related hazards at the facilities. Cal/OSHA inspectors visited the two production sites in Vernon and determined that hundreds of workers were exposed to serious illness from the novel coronavirus because no physical distancing measures were in place. Inspectors found no protections were implemented on a cart where globes and coats are put on, in the break room, on the conveyor line, during packing operations, and in the area where workers clock in and out.

Cal/OSHA said 330 Overhill Farms employees and 60 workers from Jobsource were exposed to COVID-19 at the larger of the two plants because no physical distancing measures were deployed. At the smaller facility, 80 Overhill Farms employees and 40 Jobsource workers were exposed due to the lack of distancing.

Inspectors also determined that the companies failed to train employees on COVID-19 hazards and did not adequately communicate information about the hazards to the workers. Overhill Farms received a citation for neglecting to report a COVID-19 death to Cal/OSHA.

Overhill Farms is facing a proposed penalty of $222,075 and $14,450 for non-COVID-related violations. Jobsource received a proposed fine of $214,080.

The food company received an additional fine of $103,780 and citations after two workers – one at each of the two plants – injured their hands in unguarded conveyor parts.

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