OSHA Complaint: Some Texas Businesses Fail to Comply During COVID-19Greg Garner
Across the nation, people are returning to work. Small businesses are opening their doors once more. This process is something small business owners have wholeheartedly anticipated.
But reopening the nation brings with it new considerations. Especially regarding the potential for an OSHA complaint.
When it comes to ensuring workplaces remain compliant with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s COVID-19 precautions, the devil’s in the details. Some workplaces are already feeling the pain.
Why? Because they’ve fallen short of safety standards amid the coronavirus pandemic. Cases of OSHA violations have even reached top tier companies.
Consider the August announcement that 60 employees at the Walmart Distribution Center in New Braunfels tested positive for the virus. As it turned out, the company had not put in place the proper precautions.
Here’s what you need to know about OSHA regulations. That way, you can avoid the non-compliant trap that some Texas business owners have fallen into.
OSHA Complaints and COVID-19
The Walmart situation at New Braunfels is just one of many recent stories about Texas businesses that have fallen short of OSHA requirements.
Employees at the San Antonio International Airport recently received flak for hygiene issues. These issues were explicitly related to aircraft lavatories.
Workers were emptying these lavatories. This process resulted in exposure to “blue juice” and human waste. Yet, employees didn’t have access to hot water for proper handwashing.
The OSHA complaints don’t stop there.
Texas Businesses Tangling with OSHA After COVID-19 Violations
The Texas MedClinic also had a complaint filed against it. Why? Healthcare workers alleged exposure to COVID-19-related health hazards.
The complaint cited inadequate processes for handling medical waste and infectious materials. It argued that employee exposure to the virus resulted from poor housekeeping, inadequate sanitation, and more.
What’s another workplace that has been charged with OSHA violations? Ingram Readymix, Inc.
According to documents, the employer didn’t adequately train workers to disinfect trucks. What’s more, trucks were shared among drivers. No safety precautions, such as glove-wearing, were implemented.
An OSHA complaint was also filed against La Gloria. Why? For exposure of employees to coronavirus through a confirmed cases. Employees claim the company didn’t follow CDC precautions and guidelines.
Deaths Linked to Meatpacking Plants
There have also been recent investigations into COVID-19 deaths at meatpacking plants. Two hundred and thirty-nine meatpacking workers have died. Another 45,000 have contracted the virus.
Yet, companies only reported half this number of fatalities to OSHA. In other words, deaths have gone underreported and uninvestigated.
Certain corporate-sized employers have gotten off the hook without addressing unsafe working conditions. Yet, other smaller companies have borne the brunt of OSHA complaints.
What’s one example of this in the meatpacking industry? Seaboard Foods located in Guymon, Oklahoma.
The plant has seen 961 employees contract the virus. Six of them have since died according to company records.
Yet, the Department of Labor records no COVID-19 deaths at the plant. How is this possible? During its investigation, OSHA ruled the pandemic deaths not work-related.
Lessons Learned from Meatpacking Plants
What should we learn from the Oklahoma meatpacking plant situation in Guymon? OSHA has shown concerning inconsistencies. In some cases, they’ve relied on “rapid response investigations.” This investigative approach has proven less robust.
“Rapid response investigations” get handled via email, fax, or phone. In many cases, investigators accept the word of the company at face value. That means no further investigation takes place.
How widespread is this problem? Nearly one-quarter of plants with COVID-19 employee deaths have seen no inspections or investigations.
Clearly, some cases continue to fall through the cracks. It’s worth noting that OSHA has always had understaffing issues.
A Swamped System
The inundation of new complaints has further swamped the agency. Today, agency employees must handle normal caseloads on top of COVID-19-related complaints.
Employees have been left feeling their health and safety is no longer safeguarded by OSHA. And with good reason.
Consider this. Just five meatpacking plants have received citations for coronavirus safety violations.
These citations total just $69,000 in total fines. Yet, the agency also reports that 13,477 total COVID-19 complaints across all industries were registered as of February 1.
Of these cases, 273 resulted in citations. These citations added up to a total cost of $3.6 million in fines.
How to Safeguard Your Business
There has been an inconsistent application of OSHA requirements across the board. Some small businesses have paid the price when it comes to complaints. Yet, some big brand have gotten off lightly.
For example, the meatpacking industry has operated under the radar despite rising case and fatality numbers. The agency has been inundated by complaints. This explains some of its unwillingness to weigh into the meatpacking plant situation.
An uneven application of OSHA regulations has left many employees and business owners to question who OSHA laws apply to.
Concerns about complaints and lawsuits related to COVID-19 have grown exponentially. For this reason, Governor Greg Abbott has weighed in on the topic. Abbott has urged state lawmakers to protect companies and individuals against frivolous lawsuits.
Abbott notes that many Texas workers have already lodged complaints with the federal government. How may ? To date, more than 917 coronavirus complaints have already been filed by Texas employees.
OSHA has closed 820 of these cases without providing any reasons. The lack of an explanation in each of these cases has placed a tarnish on the agency. Continued inconsistencies have also made companies wonder where they stand when it comes to compliance.
Opening for Business and Avoiding Lawsuits
These statistics are cause for concern for small business owners. It can make the decision to reopen feel excruciating. After all, you need to get back to business to start generating revenues. But how do companies protect themselves from potential lawsuits?
The governor and state lawmakers continue to hash out ways to protect small businesses. But what should entrepreneurs do in the meantime?
The best way to protect a workplace is by establishing a robust infectious disease preparedness response plan. This plan must be OSHA compliant.
This plan should be compliant with the new workplace guidelines. These guidelines we’re released by the Biden administration at the end of January.
Find out more about the Department of Labor’s current guidance on preparing workplace for COVID-19. Then, use these guidelines to create a solid plan for your business.
Companies must also be prepared with a response to OSHA complaints. Why? Enterprises must be well-prepared to tackle the challenges of reopening markets across the nation.
New OSHA Regulations on the Horizon
These new guidelines are designed to protect all types of employees, not only those considered more vulnerable to attracting the virus. What’s more, the regulations are designed to shield employees from retaliation as a response to OSHA complaints.
These guidelines remains very similar to those established by the Trump administration. But the Biden team is considering the addition of federal emergency standards, something labor advocated have been recommending for some time now.
OSHA will have until March 15th to decide whether the standards floated in an executive order signed by Biden will get issued. For this reason, business owners and their staff must be trained in OSHA compliance standards.
This training will prepare them to deal with changing regulations, compliance, and consistency in the workplace. After all, the best way to avoid OSHA complaints is by making the safety and health of employees a top priority.
How to File an OSHA Complaint
It’s also worthwhile to understand the OSHA complaint filing process. Employees may file a confidential safety and health complaint. They may also request an OSHA inspection of a workplace if they believe a serious health threat exists.
There are four primary ways that employees file OSHA complaint forms:
- Email, fax, or mail
- In person
What does an OSHA online complaint form involve? It includes 19 fields asking for information related to the workplace and the employee’s personal information. Despite needing to fill in some basic information, the process results in an anonymous OSHA complaint.
Get the Training You Need
In the wake of COVID-19, business owners and employees alike have concerns about reopening companies and returning to the workplace. Workers want to stay healthy and illness-free while earning a living.
As for business owners, they want to get back to earning revenues, producing goods, and fulfilling services. Having a thorough and up-to-date knowledge of OSHA regulations remains vital to meeting the needs of both of these stakeholders.
Where should you start when it comes to getting the training your employees need to deal with COVID-19-related workplace safety issues? Get started now with the IACET accredited online blood borne pathogens training course, which is available with group pricing rates.