The Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which is responsible for workplace safety and health, announced this week that it will be “ramping up its enforcement activity” following an avalanche of COVID-19-related complaints it has received over the past several weeks.
From March 2 through April 12, Oregon OSHA has received nearly 2,900 complaints related to the coronavirus. More than 1,200 of those came during the week of March 23 alone, when Gov. Kate Brown’s executive order was issued. By comparison, Oregon OSHA typically receives about 2,000 complaints in a year.
“We are focusing our enforcement activity on more recent complaints, and on those that provide specific allegations, as well as include contact information for the complainant,” said Oregon OSHA spokesman Aaron Corvin. “Overall this approach — including spot checks — will allow us to verify the responses to complaints we’ve received so far while focusing our enforcement resources on those employers most likely to be in continued non-compliance.”
Since April 6, the number of complaints has tapered off, Corvin said.
To date, the division has opened about a dozen on-site inspections. The opening and closing of an inspection — and the decision on whether to issue a citation — can take several weeks, depending on the specifics of a case, Corvin said.
The division is working to accelerate that process.
“Our program is scalable to the task,” Corvin said. “We have 75 field enforcement staff. In addition, we have a number of enforcement managers, as well as other managers, technical staff, consultants and administrative staff assisting with the process, so the total staff involved would be right around 120.”
The complaints lodged include allegations of failures to heed the requirements included in the governor’s executive order, including certain businesses that must close to the public and others that are required to implement proper social-distancing practices.
OSHA said it is also conducting spot checks and on-site inspections to determine whether employers are doing what they are telling the division they are doing in response to complaints.
OSHA also said it can protect a complainant’s confidentiality on request — a legal shield against a business obtaining a complainant’s identity — while still investigating 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,” said Michael Wood, administrator for Oregon OSHA, in a prepared statement.
When it gets a complaint, Oregon OSHA asks the employers to respond to the allegations outlined in it. OSHA said it might conduct on-site inspections for a variety of reasons, including whether it determines an employer might not be forthcoming in their response to a complaint.
Responses include phone calls and written documentation. The recent introduction of more 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.
More information about Oregon OSHA’s actions related to the governor’s order, the order’s requirements for businesses and a list of the types of businesses that must close to the public, can be found by going to osha.oregon.gov.