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State to conduct workplace inspections after 1,200+ coronavirus-related complaints filed

Gov. Brown asked businesses to maintain social distancing in workplaces allowed to remain open during her shelter in place executive order.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Oregon's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) received more than 1,200 coronavirus-related workplace complaints in March, with the numbers ramping up in the days following Gov. Kate Brown's shelter in place executive order.

Coronavirus-related complaints took up about 77% of all complaints during the 30-day period.

"Our jurisdiction is workplaces and worker exposure and we're doing the best we can to make sure workplaces are maintaining the health and safety of their work spaces," said Aaron Corvin of Oregon OSHA.

Gov. Brown said any business that is allowed to stay open under her order needs to maintain one of the following three things:

  • Employees have to stay 6 feet away from one another.
  • Employers have to offer telework.
  • Restaurants, coffee shops or breweries must offer take-out or delivery.

Complaints filed to OSHA include several industries, and most cite the "social distancing" rule.

Here are some examples:

Construction 

  • "Multiple employees are working in lifts next to each other and lunch shacks are packed full of employees siting next to each other."
  • "Concerns about employees exposure to COVID-19 in an overcrowded residential construction site, and office area."
  • "The job site is large and has at least 200 people. There is no way to practice social distancing."

Retail 

  • "This furniture store is not closing and allowing customers to roam freely and shop for furniture."
  • "Employer allowing sick employees to work and have close interaction with others."
  • "Nobody is enforcing or following social distancing/sanitation guidelines. Germs are being spread rapidly."
  • "Employee was terminated while being under quarantine."
  • "Corporate is not letting employees use masks or gloves during the COVID-19 outbreak."
  • "Staff is being forced to work with symptoms of cough, sore throat or fevers and being threatened by staffing coordinator of losing job if called out sick."
  • "Employees are not allowed to use PPE (gloves and masks). Employee continues to work while ill with fever, diarrhea and vomiting."

Healthcare

  • "The employer did not implement administrative controls to reduce/minimize COVID-19 exposure such as minimize contact among workers, develop a reporting system to address employee concerns, and implement a plan to address worker exposure."
  • "Personal protective equipment (masks) not provided to nurses

    working with COVID persons of interest (PUI)."

  • "Nurses on the psychiatric unit were told that they could not wear PPE when working with a patient with new onset shortness of breath and cough. Staff have been told that they cannot wear their own self-supplied PPE."

  • "Nurses are not being provided adequate PPE and are told that wearing a mask will result in disciplinary action."

Car dealerships

  • "Employees work on commission and may lose their jobs if they do not come in to work."
  • "Employer is wiping down hard surfaces after test drives but not

    soft surfaces (seats)."

"If we do an inspection it would be about identifying if there are any violations and if there are we'd issue citations and if they are serious violations they'd carry a monetary penalty," said Corvin. 

There are more than 70 compliance officers at OSHA. An additional dozen or so managers and administrators help with complaints.

If you are an Oregonian who is worried about the social distancing your work is enforcing (or not), you can contact OSHA. The violations have to have occurred at the workplace during work hours.

You can file a report with OSHA online in English or Spanish, and if you need advice on how to keep your workplace safe, you can visit this website.

KGW's Mike Benner contributed to this report.

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