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Citations in the Time of COVID

More than a year into the pandemic, the sad fact remains that, for most California workers, Cal/OSHA seems not to exist. Life and death issues are not limited to what many think of as "dangerous jobs" – they are now a daily reality in workplaces across our state. Personal protective equipment is not just a staple of emergency rooms but also now in our homes and offices. Yet not once have we seen California's governor or any other leader in our state government stand in front of a violating employer and tell the state's workers: "Cal/OSHA is here, and we've got your back."

Over the last few months, Worksafe has been lifting up the work that Cal/OSHA is actually doing to hold employers accountable for failing to protect their staff and communities from COVID-19. The agency started a website listing all of their citations related to Covid, and Worksafe has been sharing them individually on social media going back to December 2020.

I recommend that you take a look at this Twitter thread. Reviewing these citations individually and together is a bracing and educational experience, much more so than reading the DOSH press releases or skimming their citations page. Yes, the documents are dry, the language is legalistic. But they paint a stark picture of the harsh daily reality of work life during Covid. Workers getting exposed and sickened as they show up for their jobs during the pandemic, side by side at a vegetable packing conveyor belt in San Francisco (Imperfect Food, cited Feb. 11), providing security (PIH Health Good Samaritan Hospital, cited Feb. 26), harvesting in a vineyard (Bayview Vineyards, cited Dec. 2), working at a grocery (Supermercado Mi Tierra, cited Dec. 2), and rebuilding a roof (Troy Roofing, cited March 3). You can scroll through the Twitter thread to look at all the individual citations and the citations themselves.

The Sacramento Bee has documented disturbing questions about disregard for basic workplace safety regulations that appear to be widespread among California employers. There is citation after citation to employers who failed to report hospitalizations and deaths of their workers to Cal/OSHA as required (Prime Healthcare Services, cited Dec. 4; Calavo Growers, cited Feb. 19; Fresno County Sheriff's Office; cited Mar. 9). Many citations are to health care facilities like hospitals (Alta Bates, cited Mar. 24) and care centers (Studio City Rehabilitation Center, cited Mar. 2) for failure to implement California’s Aerosol Transmissible Disease (ATD) Standard. This leading rule, first in the nation, has been in place since 2009. (And note that Cal/OSHA’s web page documents that virtually all of these citations have been appealed.)

Is this work by Cal/OSHA helping keep workers safe? Are employers taking notice and improving their compliance with what’s required? We still stand in the hurricane that is this global pandemic, so it is too soon for fully formed conclusions on how we can do better in the future. One thing is for sure: a rich, factual public record of what is happening will be central to that analysis. The portrait painted by Cal/OSHA’s citations of California employers for workplace safety violations is important documentation in that effort.