OSHA: 'Extraordinary workload' of COVID-19 workplace complaints
There are thousands of people every day who go to work at their business during the pandemic. Workplace outbreaks of COVID-19 continue to affect workers — and strain the resources of the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Since the pandemic began, more than 9,900 cases of the novel coronavirus and 53 deaths have been linked to workplace outbreaks in Oregon. Out of the top 30 workplace outbreaks in the state, OSHA has inspected two.
OSHA has received more than 15,000 business-related COVID-19 complaints statewide. Most of the complaints are for employers not enforcing the use of facial coverings or social distancing.
"To give some context, it's an extraordinarily large workload," OSHA administrator Michael Wood told KOIN 6 News. "In a normal year, we get about 2,000 complaints total."
"The challenge for us is deciding which inspections or which complaints need to lead to an inspection and figuring out how to prioritize that," Wood said. "Because we can't inspect them all, (the key) is figuring out how to recognize where those outbreaks are most likely based on the limited information we get in a set of complaints."
The biggest outbreak so far has been at the Snake River Correctional Institution — 547 cases. But OSHA didn't inspect that location.
"We received a handful of complaints early and received some later on as well," Wood said.
The same goes for the Fred Meyer distribution center in Clackamas, which tallied 88 cases. But OSHA did inspect the Amazon location in Salem, with its 59 cases.
Wood said their resources are stretched too thin to investigate every complaint.
"If there are serious problems and we find them, we will deal with them," he said. "But I am not going to pretend we have the staffing or the capability to find every problem that exists in the Oregon workplace."
Oregon OSHA has 76 compliance officers. When OSHA receives a complaint, representatives reach out to employers to ensure compliance.
"It makes sense to reach to make sure employers understand that they are expected to enforce facial coverings, that they are expected to not only enforce it in relation to their employees but in relation to customers or visitors," Wood said.
More than 60% of complaints are resolved, Wood reported, but there are still thousands of complaints that go unresolved.
Overall, OSHA has completed between 150 and 200 inspections.
"We end up in that context narrowing the inspection scope. We will most likely do inspections with people who, frankly, refuse to comply. That's where a lot of our enforcement activity has risen," Wood said.
As more complaints come in, OSHA needs help from businesses to do their part.
"If we are relying on Oregon OSHA to make sure that everybody in the workplace is following these rules, we are going to fail," he said. "It really needs to be the employers and the workers who are there to make sure it happens."
If you would like to file a complaint, click here. OSHA will accept complaints from people who want to remain anonymous, but the agency encourages people to give their identity and contact information so they can follow up. People who file complaints can request in writing that their identity be protected.
KOIN 6 News is a news partner of the Portland Tribune. Their story can be found here.
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