Multiple Kern County-based companies and facilities have received fines from the state these past few months for not following COVID-19 infection prevention in the workplace.
These fines, issued between October to December of 2020, were issued to five companies based in Wasco and one in Bakersfield.
In total, $186,360 in fines were issued. These were a result of the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Cal/OSHA) thorough inspections which led to the citations with violations related to COVID-19 infection prevention.
Citation reports by the Department of Industrial Relations claim the companies lacked a plan to properly protect workers from the pandemic or failed to train employees on COVID-19 safety measures — in some cases, both.
The description regarding Primex Farms LLC, a local Wasco-based nut processing plant, reads “Employer was cited for failing to report employees serious illness to Cal/OSHA and for failing to prevent harmful exposures of its own employees and contract employees to infectious or potentially infectious airborne particles by ensuring the use of engineering controls to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including, but not limited to, face coverings and failed to provide training and instruction to employees and contract employees regarding occupational hazards of COVID-19…”
Primex has around 400 employers who work to process and package locally produced almonds and pistachios.
According to the Bakersfield Californian, based on paperwork filed, Primex failed to create and maintain a program to protect its employees and those of all three staffing companies from the spread of COVID-19. This occured near the beginning of the pandemic, May 25 to June 15.
Additionally, it was written that they failed to provide or ensure mask coverings were worn. The company neglected to correct the unhealthy conditions or protect its workers from exposure to COVID-19, the department explained.
The visibility of this outbreak, particularly in Primex Farms, was made possible by the United Farm Workers along with multiple media outlets that gave attention to the workers’ concerns.
Two main allegations was that job security was not promised if employees missed work due to an outbreak, and workers were still scheduled to work even if test results were still pending.
However, these are disputed by Primex.
The California Corrections & Rehabilitation Wasco State Prison Reception Center also received a fine of $16,360 from the state for failing to implement and maintain an effective “Aerosol Transmissible Disease” exposure control plan and for failing to ensure that each person assigned a respirator was properly fit tested prior to use.
Two other Wasco-based companies — Jacobo Farm Labor Services, Inc., a roasted nut and peanut butter manufacturing site and H&R Labor Contracting, LLC — were each issued a fine for $11,250. The companies were each cited for failing to prevent “harmful exposures of its employees to infectious or potentially infectious airborne particles by ensuring the use of engineering controls to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including, but not limited to, face coverings and failing to evaluate and identify workplace hazards related to COVID-19.”
Wasco company United Staffing Associates, LLC, a temporary help services company, received a fine of $27,500 for failing to report a serious employee illness to Cal/OSHA, failing to implement and maintain an effective Injury and Illness Prevention Program (IIPP) for its employees by failing to effectively identify or evaluate workplace hazards relating to COVID-19 and failed to effectively implement methods or procedures to correct unhealthy conditions or work practices relating to COVID-19 and failed to provide training and instruction to its employees regarding the new occupational hazard of COVID-19.
Lastly, Kingston Healthcare Center, a skilled nursing facility in Bakersfield, was issued a fine in October for $92,500 for not reporting serious illnesses in the workplace timely and for not recording employee injury and illnesses in their Cal/OSHA log 300. The facility was also cited for not implementing source control procedures requiring them to inform other employees and third party employers of exposure to known COVID-19 infected individuals or limit the interaction of employees with known COVID-19 diagnosis, and for not providing protective equipment to employees. The employer was also cited for not developing an Aerosol Transmissible Disease Plan. The skilled nursing facility has had 105 COVID-19 cases among residents and 19 COVID-19 deaths among residents.
The Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH), better known as Cal/OSHA, protects and improves the health and safety of working men and women in California and the safety of citizens. Their findings and fines, related to COVID-19, are to help slow and prevent the spread of the virus.
Furthermore, these citation are enforced to help employers better protect and workers and to promote compliance to OSHA regulations.