Employer and Staffing Agency Facing Huge Fines for Failing to Protect Workers from COVID-19

Cal/OSHA has issued citations to frozen food manufacturer Overhill Farms Inc. and its temporary employment agency Jobsource North America Inc. with over $200,000 in proposed penalties to each employer for failing to protect hundreds of employees from COVID-19 at two plants in Vernon.

The employers did not take any steps to install barriers or implement procedures to have employees work at least six feet away from each other and they did not investigate any of their employees’ COVID-19 infections, including more than 20 illnesses and, in the case of Overhill Farms, one death.

Cal/OSHA Chief Doug Parker, said, “It is critical that employers evaluate the workplace and take proactive measures to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 in the workplace. If a COVID-19 illness occurs, employers must investigate the case to determine if additional protective measures should be taken and report the serious illnesses and deaths to Cal/OSHA. 

Employers should also notify workers of possible exposure and report outbreaks to county public health officials.”

On April 28, Cal/OSHA opened inspections with Overhill Farms and Jobsource after receiving complaints of hazards related to COVID-19. The inspections included visits to two facilities in Vernon where Overhill Farms employees and workers from Jobsource manufacture a variety of frozen foods.

Cal/OSHA found hundreds of employees were exposed to serious illness from COVID-19 due to the lack of physical distancing procedures among workers including where they clock in and out of their shift, at the cart where they put on gloves and coats, in the break room, on the conveyor line and during packing operations.

At the larger of the two facilities, Cal/OSHA identified 330 employees of Overhill Farms and 60 employees of Jobsource were exposed to the virus from the lack of physical distancing.

At the smaller facility, Cal/OSHA found 80 Overhill Farms workers and 40 employees of Jobsource did packing operations, worked in the marinating area, and processed raw poultry without any distancing procedures or protective barriers in place.

Other violations that put workers at risk of exposure to COVID-19 include the failure by both employers to train employees on the hazards presented by the virus and failure to investigate any of the more than 20 COVID-19 illnesses and one death Cal/OSHA uncovered amongst their employees.

The employers did not adequately communicate the COVID-19 hazards to their workforce, and Overhill did not report a COVID-19 fatality to Cal/OSHA.

The COVID-19 related violations cited at both plants yesterday include $222,075 in proposed penalties to Overhill Farms and $214,080 in proposed penalties to Jobsource, with an additional $14,450 in proposed penalties for Overhill Farms for non-COVID related violations.

Cal/OSHA also issued citations yesterday to both employers from inspections of two accidents in February, after one worker at each of the two facilities was injured when their hands got caught in unguarded conveyor parts.

These accident inspections resulted in citations with $103,780 in proposed penalties to Overhill Farms, including for repeat violations due to a similar accident in 2016, and $29,700 in proposed penalties to Jobsource.

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