The state's workplace watchdog, Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration, (Oregon OSHA) is launching spot checks following a sharp jump in complaints about businesses not complying with the state's social distancing requirements.
In a release, Oregon OSHA said it is ramping up its enforcement activity and will begin systematically conducting spot checks to verify that employers are complying with requirements – including closures to the public – aimed at curbing the coronavirus pandemic.
The spot checks – which are in addition to more time-intensive, on-site inspections initiated by the division – are intended to confirm whether employers are actually doing what they are telling the division they are doing in response to complaints.
Those complaints include allegations of failures to heed the requirements included in Gov. Kate Brown’s executive order, including certain businesses that must close to the public and others that are required to implement proper social-distancing practices.
As it moves forward, Oregon OSHA will also focus its enforcement activity on more recent complaints, and on those that provide specific allegations, as well as include contact information for the complainant. The division can protect a complainant’s confidentiality on request – a legal shield against an employer obtaining a complainant’s identity – while still being able to engage with the complainant.
“This approach will allow us to verify the responses to complaints that we’ve received so far from employers while focusing our enforcement resources on those employers most likely to be in continued non-compliance,” Oregon OSHA administrator Michael Wood said.
Recent analysis suggests Oregon’s collective efforts to fight the spread of the coronavirus are working.
As reported by the Oregon Health Authority, new projections from health researchers estimate that Oregon’s aggressive social distancing measures have prevented as many as 18,000 cases of COVID-19 and 500 hospitalizations. However, these restrictions must be maintained into May to prevent new cases from rising above current daily levels of active coronavirus cases.
The responsibility for prevention includes certain employers staying closed to the public, and employers who remain open maintaining social-distancing and other safe practices.
Tasked with enforcing the order with respect to employers and worker exposure, Oregon OSHA continues to screen complaints, initiate inspections, and consider additional inspection candidates.
From March 2 through April 12, the division received 2,887 complaints related to the coronavirus. More than 1,200 of those came during the week of March 23, when the governor’s executive order was issued. Since April 6, the number of complaints has noticeably tapered off. The division typically receives just over 2,000 complaints per year.
In screening complaints, Oregon OSHA’s work has included clarifying employers’ responsibilities under the governor’s order and asking employers to specifically respond to the allegations outlined in complaints.
So far, the division has opened a dozen on-site inspections. The opening and closing of an inspection – and a decision whether to issue a citation – can take several weeks, depending on the specifics of a case. The division is working to accelerate that process.
The division may conduct on-site inspections for a variety of reasons, including whether it determines an employer’s response to the complaints may not be credible. Responses include phone calls and written documentation. The formal introduction of systematic spot checks – about two dozen of which have been conducted previously on a less formal basis – is aimed at verifying what employers are telling the division about their actions without requiring the more resource-intensive formal inspection process.
For more information about Oregon OSHA workplace guidance and resources related to the coronavirus outbreak, visit https://osha.oregon.gov/Pages/re/covid-19.aspx
To understand Oregon OSHA’s scope of activity in relation to the governor’s order, the order’s requirements in that context, and a list of the types of businesses that must close to the public, visit: https://osha.oregon.gov/Documents/COVID-19-scope-for-Oregon-OSHA.pdf
Oregon OSHA, a division of the Department of Consumer and Business Services, enforces the state's workplace safety and health rules and works to improve workplace safety and health for all Oregon workers. For more information, go to osha.oregon.gov.