Frozen food manufacturers in Vernon California have been issued the largest fine yet for COVID-19 related health violations. It was California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) that conducted an investigation and came to fine both the food manufacturer, Overhill Farms, and its employment agency, Jobsource North America, of over $200,000 in fines to each.
The multiple complaints from workers over lack of COVID-19 safety measures prompted Cal/OSHA to inspect Overhill Farms and Jobsource’s facilities in late April. What Cal/OSHA discovered at the facilities supported the contents of worker’s complaints. Cal/OSHA confirmed that the facilities had a gross mishandling of the pandemic as there were no attempts of social distancing. Specifically, none of the work stations from the conveyor line to the packing operations failed to enforce social distancing by installing protective barriers, nor did any of the facilities train their workers on the hazards of COVID-19.
Moreover, Cal/OSHA also found that the companies were reported to have more than 20 cases of COVID-19 and even one death due to COVID-19. Yet, neither companies investigated nor installed safety measures to curtail the outbreak.
Doug Parker, the Chief at Cal/OSHA has also released a statement regarding how employers should handle COVID-19 saying “It is critical that employers evaluate the workplace and take proactive measures to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 in the workplace.” Parker further states that it is even more important that employers also follow correct procedure once a COVID-19 case is confirmed. “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.”
The secretary-treasurer for the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770, Kathy Finn, is pleased with the outcome and hopes it sends a clear warning to other workplaces who are also not taking into consideration their worker’s safety in the current pandemic. Finn comments “We’re really happy that the state finally took some action for the egregious violations that Overhill Farms committed. It’s been six months, that they’ve been working under horrendous conditions.”
In response to the fines Overhill Farms has said they will continue to contest Cal/OSHA’s findings and released a statement claiming that “The health and safety of our employees is our first priority. Overhill Farms has not only taken steps in line with the constantly evolving federal, state and local guidance, we have gone above and beyond those recommendations as we developed our employee safety procedures.
Similarly, Jobsource is al disputing Cal/OSHA report and released their own statement saying “We take the health and safety of all of our team members very seriously and we believe that we have not done anything that would endanger anyone in our community.”
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