OSHA saw complaint spike after gov orders for social distancing

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration saw a jump in complaints, mostly related to COVID-19, after the governor issued an order requiring employers to enforce social distancing.

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ONTARIO – Work hazard complaints to the state’s workplace safety agency ballooned in just under a month in Oregon. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration received 3,582 complaints between March 2 and April 19.

The division typically receives just over 2,000 complaints per year.

The number of complaints peaked the last week of March, when Gov. Kate Brown issued an order requiring employers to enforce social distancing or close. The state received 1,373 complaints, up from 68 received in the first week of March.

Approximately 9 out of 10 complaints filed against employers over a seven-week period were related to COVID-19.

In that time, 20 complaints were logged against employers in Malheur County.

“Ever since we began receiving covid-related complaints, it’s been an all-hands-on-deck project to screen the complaints, including for potential inspection candidates,” Aaron Corvin, public information officer for the agency, wrote in an email.

Most of the complaints alleged that employers were not adhering to social distancing guidelines.

“In many cases, we’ve been able to contact employers and clarify their responsibilities under the governor’s executive order, and they have taken appropriate steps – if they were not already living up to the order’s expectations,” Corvin said.

He added that the agency will issue citations but that it is still working through its administrative process and has made no final determinations. The decision whether to issue a citation can take weeks.

The agency announced in April that it would begin conducting spot-checks to verify that employers are adhering to state directives aimed at curbing COVID-19 cases. The checks are aimed at ensuring that employees are complying without requiring more formal inspection processes. 

In Malheur County, at least some employers moved to implement measures addressing the complaints.

Snake River Correctional Institution addressed allegations that the prison was not providing appropriate personal protective equipment to employees, according to Amber Campbell, public information officer at SRCI.

One complaint alleged that the prison was allowing inmates to congregate in groups of more than 100 in meal and recreational areas.

Campbell said the prison has modified operations to lower the number of people in a given area at one time.

“For example, we have slowed down the process for when [adults in custody] are going to their meals in the dining rooms. This provides for us to have less people in the dining rooms at a given time,” Campbell said. “We also alternate when [adults in custody] attend recreation yard from the various Housing Units to limit the number of people on the yard; and we alternate when [adults in custody] pick up their canteen items.”

OSHA said in a news release last month that moving forward, the agency will focus its enforcement activity on more recent complaints, particularly those that provide specific allegations and include contact information for the complainant. Complainants can request that the agency protect their identity.

Have a news tip? Reporter Yadira Lopez: [email protected] or 541-473-3377


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