The top US workplace safety regulator failed to protect workers from unsafe practices during the pandemic, according to investigation
- An investigation by Reuters identified 106 US workplaces where
OSHAlargely disregarded workers who reported lax pandemic safety practices.
- Of those identified, 70 facilities that were never inspected ended up experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks that killed 26 workers, the outlet reported.
- Worker complaints came from a variety of industries, including Tesla Inc., Tyson Foods, and the United Parcel Service.
- As of mid-December, 12 of the 106 facilities had been penalized in response to the complaints. Federal and state OSHA agencies have conducted 44% fewer workplace inspections overall between March and December as compared to the previous year,
State and federal workplace regulators have largely disregarded complaints from facilities that had been unsafe or lax with their COVID-19 protection measures, a Reuters special investigation found.
Using Occupational Safety and Health Administration records, Reuters identified 106 workplaces in the US where employees complained about pandemic safety practices and found regulators either never inspected the facility or waited months to do so.
Of those, 70 facilities that were never inspected ended up experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks that killed 26 workers, the outlet reported.
However, Reuters found that as of mid-December, only a dozen of the 106 facilities had been penalized in response to worker complaints regarding pressuring sick employees to come to work, a lack of notification about sick co-workers, mask-wearing, or social distancing.
Business Insider has previously reported that workers in a variety of industries, including meatpacking, e-commerce, and longterm care facilities, have been at an increased work of sickness during the
Tyson's Logansport, Indiana, plant made headlines last year when 900 employees tested positive for COVID-19 in April, Business Insider previously reported.
Reuters learned workers at the plant had sent 13 complaints to OSHA, detailing safety concerns, before the outbreak, but the state's agency never inspected the site for COVID-19 problems, and it closed the complaints after getting documents from the company in response to agency emails.
Among healthcare workers, OSHA has closed out complaints from about 1,800 hospitals and nursing homes nationwide, but only about 15% of them have been inspected so far during the pandemic, the Reuters report said. The agency fined about one in five of those inspected facilities.
While COVID-19 continued to get worse, OSHA weakened reporting requirements
Prior to September, employers were required to report to OSHA any employee that had been hospitalized by COVID-19. The agency changed its guidelines to only require notification of hospitalizations that happened within 24 hours of exposure.
Because coronavirus symptoms take more than 24 hours from an exposure to show, Reuters noted the change basically halted all hospitalization data collection by the agency.
Since October, the new OSHA data shows that the average number of hospitalizations is 40% less than the average number reported from March through December, despite the coronavirus spreading across the US over the last two months, Reuters reported.
OSHA's acting leader, Loren Sweatt, said in a statement to the outlet that the allegations in the cases cited in the report do not reflect the totality of OSHA's efforts to keep workers safe and "unfairly disparage dedicated OSHA inspectors across the country."
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