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Posted on: Sep 28, 2020

In a major win for worker safety, Cal/OSHA has recently stepped up efforts to protect workers’ from COVID-19 by moving forward on an emergency temporary standard while also citing employers who have failed to instill various safety measures to protect employees.

On September 17, Cal/OSHA’s Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board voted unanimously to draft a new emergency temporary standard, with a deadline for consideration at their November 19 meeting, that would help bolster worker safety for all California workers and give the agency greater enforcement powers to hold employers accountable.

The vote came after months of pressure from a coalition of labor groups led by WorkSafe and others, calling on the agency to create better protections as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. The groups had petitioned for an emergency temporary standard and a permanent standard back in May while also providing draft language for the emergency standard.

Several employees from various industries testified in support of the standard at the September 17 meeting, including a McDonald’s worker from Oakland who said she and her colleagues had been using coffee filters as facemasks, with one even using a diaper.

While there are existing safety guidelines employers are encouraged to follow, subject to fines from Cal/OSHA, the new standard will provide specific steps employers can take to better protect employees from possible outbreaks, alleviating confusion while strengthening oversight. 

Speaking of fines, Cal/OSHA has recently cited a number of employers for failing to protect employees from COVID-19 in various ways.

Focusing on industries with an elevated risk of exposure, such as food processing, meatpacking, health care, agriculture and retail, the agency cited 11 employers on September 4 with proposed penalties ranging from $2,025 to $51,190 depending on the seriousness of the violation.

On September 9, Cal/OSHA cited Overhill Farms Inc., a frozen food manufacturer, and its temporary employment agency Jobsource North American Inc., with over $200,000 each in proposed penalties for not taking steps to install barriers or implement procedures to keep employees at least six feet apart. The employers also failed to investigate any of their employees’ COVID-19 infections, including 20 confirmed cases and one death at Overhill Farms.

Most recently, six bay area health care facilities and one bay area police department were issued citations on September 22 for failing to update workplace safety plans to properly address hazards related to the coronavirus.

We applaud and fully support the effort to create better standards to protect workers while also increasing investigative and enforcement actions against employer violations. We hope this is just the beginning in the ongoing battle to protect employees and their families.