Cal/OSHA issued a total of 12 citations to seven employers in Fresno, Madera, and Tulare counties for COVID-19-related violations during the first six months of 2022. Credit: Naeblys

What’s at stake?

Many of the employer violations were serious, such as those related to the deaths of employees who contracted the virus at work. Other citations involved employers not having written COVID-19 prevention plans in place or not reporting outbreaks to proper authorities.

From a Big Fresno Fair ride vendor to a Pepsi bottling plant, local workplaces have been hit with about $70,000 in penalties this year for allegedly violating state COVID-19 workplace regulations.

During the first six months of 2022, Cal/OSHA issued a total of 12 citations to seven employers in Fresno, Madera, and Tulare counties for COVID-19-related violations, according to the California Department of Industrial Relations. The agency updated its COVID-19 citation list earlier this month.

Many of the employer violations were serious, such as those related to the deaths of employees who contracted the virus at work. Other citations involved employers not having written COVID-19 prevention plans in place or not reporting outbreaks to proper authorities.

Cal/OSHA issues a serious violation when it determines “there is a realistic possibility that death or serious physical harm could result from the actual hazard created by the violation,” according to an agency guide.

While the violations occurred in 2021, citations were issued this year; most remain unresolved, meaning the employers have not yet paid them.

Fresno-area employers cited for COVID-19-related deaths

Some citations issued in the first six months of this year involved workplace-related deaths in 2021.

In March, Cal/OSHA issued CB Manufacturing Company, Inc., a subsidiary of Pepsi Beverages Company, four citations for nearly $25,000 related to a COVID-19 fatality at the plant in south Fresno. An employee working in a mechanic fleet shop died after contracting COVID-19 in October 2021, according to the U.S. Department of Labor OSHA accident investigation summary.

Cal/OSHA issued the company two serious citations of $7,200 each for violating state regulations that require employers to “establish, implement, and maintain an effective, written COVID-19 Prevention Program.” Specifically, the penalties were for the employer’s alleged violation of state requirements to maintain proper records on employee COVID-19 cases and to investigate and respond to COVID-19 cases in the workplace.

Cal/OSHA doled out two more citations of $5,400 and $5,000 to CB Manufacturing Company — one serious citation for allegedly violating state requirements to alert employees that may have been exposed to COVID-19, and another regulatory citation for allegedly failing to notify Cal/OSHA of the workplace fatality.

The company contested the penalties in April; the case remained open as of July 22.

CB Manufacturing Company/Pepsi could not be reached for comment.

In February, Cal/OSHA issued an AT&T, Inc. retail store on Olive Avenue in Fresno two serious violations for a total of $6,750 after an employee contracted COVID-19 and died as a result of the infection on Sept. 20, 2021.

According to a federal OSHA accident investigation summary, “an employee was assisting managers with sales in a wireless phone retail store when he was exposed to customers and coworkers who were potentially infected with COVID-19.”

The citations were for violating state regulations that require employers to have a written COVID-19 prevention program, as well as for violations of rules on investigating and responding to COVID-19 cases in the workplace.

The company contested the citations in April, and as of July 19, the case remained open.

AT&T could not be reached for comment. However, Tony Cortopassi, a director with real estate agency Cushman & Wakefield, confirmed to The Bee on Friday that the AT&T building has been sold to Fresno County, and AT&T is no longer operating at that location.

Kaweah Delta Health Care District/Kaweah Health Medical Center Visalia received a $1,000 penalty in March after an employee died of COVID-19, according to a federal OSHA investigation summary.

While OSHA could not confirm the employee contracted COVID-19 at work, “there was an outbreak of COVID-19 cases at her workplace, and she may have contracted the disease there,” the investigation summary said. Furthermore, OSHA found that the employer “did not provide an adequate record of contact tracing” and “was found to not have an effective COVID-19 Prevention Program in place.”

In an email to The Bee, spokesperson Laura Florez-McCusker confirmed Kaweah Health has paid their citation and said: “Kaweah Health lost a beloved team member. In the review by OSHA, they were unable to confirm our employee contracted COVID at work. Contract tracing did occur. Today, our COVID-19 Prevention Program is comprehensive and meets OSHA’s recommended guidelines.”

Big Fresno Fair vendor, other local businesses cited

Cal/OSHA issued Coarsegold Market, a grocery store in Madera County, two citations in January for alleged COVID-19 prevention violations. It gave the market a $750 general citation and a $5,400 serious citation for an alleged violation of the state rules regarding an employer’s written COVID-19 prevention program.

Coarsegold Market’s total penalties were reduced as of February following an informal settlement. As of July 22, the case remained open.

A manager for Coarsegold Market declined to comment.

In February, Cal/OSHA issued Tulare County’s National Builders Supply and Manufacturing a $9,000 penalty for allegedly violating state requirements for a written COVID-19 prevention plan, following a randomly selected, planned inspection. After an informal settlement, the penalty was reduced to $525. As of July 19, the case remained open.

National Builders could not be reached for comment.

In March, Cal/OSHA hit Butler Amusements Inc., a company that provides rides and entertainment to The Big Fresno Fair– and prides itself on having the “cleanest show in the West,” according to a company website – with a serious citation of $14,400 for allegedly violating rules requiring employers to establish, implement and maintain an effective, written COVID-19 prevention program. No further investigation details were immediately available on OSHA’s website.

As of April 12, the company has contested the citation. The case, which was opened in October 2021, remains open as of July 22.

Butler Amusement did not respond to a request for comment; The Big Fresno Fair could not be reached for comment.

Fresno’s public agencies receive COVID-19 citations

A number of public agencies – from state and county agencies to a local school district – were also issued citations for COVID-19 workplace safety violations in the past two years.

In March, Cal/OSHA hit the California Department of Public Health’s Licensing and Certification office in Fresno with a serious citation of $8,435 for allegedly violating regulations related to the investigation, review and hazard correction of multiple COVID-19 cases in the workplace. The inspection was prompted by a complaint, according to federal OSHA inspection details.

The department contested the citation on April 22; as of July 22,the case remained open.

In an email to The Bee on Friday, a spokesperson for the California Department of Public Health said, “the Department has appealed those citations and has no further comment.”

Meanwhile, in 2021, Cal/OSHA slammed the Fresno County Sheriff’s office with a $5,000 regulatory citation for failing to immediately report that an employee contracted COVID-19 in August 2020 and later died from complications of the virus. After the sheriff’s office contested the penalties, an administrative law judge reduced the penalties to $3,000 in July 2021, according to OSHA inspection details. The case is now closed.

Fresno County Sheriff’s public information officer could not be reached for comment.

Last year, Cal/OSHA issued the Fresno County Superior Court of California with a serious COVID-19 citation worth $5,060, following a complaint made in late 2020. The court contested the penalty in October 2021, and the case remains open as of July 19. Fresno County Superior Court spokesperson Kelly Pelletier declined to comment.

Similarly, in 2021, Sanger Unified School District received a regulatory citation of $5,000 after a school custodian died of COVID-19 due to a “potential exposure” from a coworker, according to OSHA accident inspection notes.

“Everything that we were supposed to be doing with the emergency temporary standards, we did,” said Dennis Wiechmann, assistant superintendent of human resources for the district. “There were no workplace safety findings” as a result of the investigation, he said. The citation was related to reporting work-connected fatalities and serious injuries to Cal/OSHA, but the district “reported it as soon as we got the information,” Wiechmann said.

The district appealed the citation earlier this year and is waiting for an answer from Cal/OSHA.

“It’s been difficult just across the board working with our employees and trying to support our employees,” Wiechmann said. “Being in compliance with those emergency temporary standards is something that we really have prided ourselves on doing.”

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Melissa is a labor and economic inequality reporter with The Fresno Bee and Fresnoland.

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