In last month’s Top Tip, we noted that, even though the Vax-or-Test Emergency Temporary Standard is no more, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration can still hold employers liable for failing to protect workers from COVID-19 under existing safety standards. And now we remind you that state OSH agencies may also get involved, as the State of Washington’s Department of Labor & Industries (WDL&I) demonstrated this month when it imposed more than $285,000 in fines in connection with a COVID-19 outbreak at a multi-employer warehouse.
As the WDL&I announced in a February 8, 2022 press release, 253 workers in the warehouse (approximately 1 in 4) tested positive for COVID-19 over a three month period. The county health department informed the WDL&I, which opened several inspections at the warehouse. Among the violations that it found were the following:
- Allowing/Insisting COVID-positive employees report to work
- Failure to reduce staffing during the outbreak
- Failure to enforce mask use in company vehicles and in the workplace
- Failure to verify worker vaccination status (the state required mask use for unvaccinated workers)
- Failure to conduct screening and comply with social distancing measures in transport vans
- Failure to report hospitalizations
- Failure to provide contact information for those who tested positive
- Failure to notify workers of close contact with COVID-positive co-workers
- Failure to have COVID-19 plans
Realistically, not all state OSH agencies will be as engaged in COVID-19 enforcement activity as that in Washington. Nonetheless, some will certainly be – in addition to federal OSHA’s expressly asserted focus on such activity. Employers must continue to be thoughtful about taking appropriate measures to protect their workers from COVID-19.