The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health issued citations to frozen-food manufacturer Overhill Farms Inc. and its staffing provider, Jobsource North America Inc., with more than $200,000 in proposed penalties for failing to protect hundreds of employees from Covid-19 at two plants in Vernon, California. The two companies face separate fines related to two accidents that happened in February.
According to Cal/OSHA, the employers failed to install barriers or implement procedures to have employees work at least six feet away from each other; nor did they investigate any of their employees’ Covid-19 infections, including more than 20 illnesses and, in the case of Overhill Farms, one death.
Cal/OSHA opened inspections with Overhill Farms and Jobsource in April after receiving complaints of hazards related to Covid-19. The inspections included visits to two facilities in Vernon where Overhill Farms employees and contingent workers manufacture a variety of frozen foods.
The violations related to Covid-19 cited at both plants last week include $222,075 in proposed penalties to Overhill Farms and $214,080 in proposed penalties to Jobsource, with an additional $14,450 in proposed penalties for Overhill Farms for non-Covid related violations.
Cal/OSHA found hundreds of workers were exposed to serious illness from Covid-19 due to the lack of physical distancing procedures where workers clock in and out of their shifts, 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, 60 contingent workers were among the 390 who were exposed to the virus from the lack of physical distancing. At the smaller facility, 40 contingents and 80 Overhill Farms employees worked in the marinating area and processed raw poultry without any distancing procedures or protective barriers in place.
Other violations that put workers at risk of exposure to Covid-19 include the failure by Overhill and its staffing provider to train employees on the hazards presented by the virus and failure to investigate any of the more than 20 Covid-19 illnesses and one death Cal/OSHA uncovered among their employees. The employers did not adequately communicate the Covid-19 hazards to their workforce, and Overhill did not report the Covid-19 fatality to Cal/OSHA.
“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,” said Cal/OSHA Chief Doug Parker. “Employers should also notify workers of possible exposure and report outbreaks to county public health officials.”
Cal/OSHA also issued citations last week to both employers from inspections of two accidents in February, after one worker at each of the two facilities was injured when their hands got caught in unguarded conveyor parts. These accident inspections resulted in citations with $103,780 in proposed penalties to Overhill Farms, including for repeat violations due to a similar accident in 2016 , and $29,700 in proposed penalties to Jobsource.