The Oregon Safety and Health office (Oregon OSHA) has cited a National Frozen Foods Corporation (NFFC) processing plant in Albany for failing to implement physical distancing measures to protect employees from the spread of the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2).
The citation, which carries a proposed penalty of $2,000, stems from an inspection launched on April 20 in response to multiple complaints about the facility, which produces frozen vegetables and fruits.
Steve Schossberger, general counsel and vice president of NFFC, said the company plans to appeal the citation. Meanwhile, after undergoing thorough sanitization, the plant reopened on May 6 to resume production at automated packing lines.
Under a state executive order aimed at slowing the Covid-19 pandemic, employers are required to maintain physical distancing policies to keep workers at least six feet apart.
“We expect employers to follow the appropriate requirements to protect workers against the spread of this disease,” said Michael Wood, administrator for Oregon OSHA. “Continuing to do business as usual at the expense of worker safety is not acceptable.”
The practice at National Frozen Foods ran counter to those requirements, according to Oregon OSHA’s inspection, which included interviews with employees. It centered on the position of workers and related operations involving packaging conveyor lines on the west side of the facility.
“The company allowed 18 employees – stationed at frozen packaging lines nine at a time during day and swing shifts – to work at a distance of two feet to four feet from each other,” claimed Oregon OSHA in a statement released on May 11. “The company allowed this practice to continue after multiple employees who worked on the packaging lines tested positive for Covid-19.”
According to a Capital Press story published on May 12:
“Schossberger does not dispute whether workers were stationed within six feet of one another on the case packing line, but said they were wearing full personal protective equipment including gloves, hair nets and face coverings. He also argued there is no proof that employees contracted Covid-19 in the workplace.
Oregon OSHA took provisions in the governor’s stay-at-home order intended for individual residents and retail businesses, and incorrectly applied them to an essential industrial facility, Schossberger said.”
National Frozen Food Corporation collaborated with Linn County Public Health, the Oregon Health Authority and Oregon Department of Agriculture to test 191 of the workers, with 10 cases coming back positive, according to Schossberger.
Oregon OSHA, a division of the state’s Department of Consumer & Business Services, maintains and enforces rules requiring employers to provide safe and healthy workplaces, including implementing control measures to protect against health hazards.
Under Governor Kate Brown’s executive order – issued to address the public health crisis triggered by the coronavirus pandemic – Oregon OSHA is tasked with enforcing requirements with respect to employers and potential worker exposures. The division continues to screen complaints, conduct spot checks, and initiate inspections.