OSHA COVID-19-related fines: Senators claim penalties ‘inadequate,’ ask Scalia to respond
Washington — Two dozen Democratic senators have taken issue with the dollar amounts OSHA has chosen to levy against employers in its individual COVID-19-related fines. In a letter sent Sept. 29 to Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia, the lawmakers call the fines “inadequate” and suggest that the Department of Labor “does not fully appreciate the life or death impact of strong enforcement of worker safety standards.”
An Oct. 9 press release from OSHA states that, as of Oct. 1, the agency had cited 62 establishments for COVID-19-related violations, resulting in more than $913,000 in proposed penalties combined. The largest individual fine was $28,070.
“OSHA had the option to issue multiple citations for each area of the facilities where proper precautions were not implemented, which would have multiplied the total fine amount per company,” the senators wrote. “In addition, OSHA elected to treat each citation as serious, instead of willful or egregious, which would have allowed for fines up to $134,937 to be levied.”
OSHA penalties can change through at least a couple of different methods, including informal settlements or via the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. Five penalties already have been reduced, according to OSHA’s Establishment Search.
Many of its more recent cases are still open, which means OSHA could reduce those fines as well or add fines. In addition, seven establishments on OSHA’s list have current fines of zero dollars.
The group of lawmakers, which includes Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), took particular issue with the $13,494 fine levied against Smithfield Packaged Meats Corp., “a $15 billion company.” Four workers died of COVID-19 and 1,300 more contracted the disease at Smithfield’s facility in Sioux Falls, SD, the group contends in the letter, citing OSHA findings.
“The fine amounted to approximately $10 for each worker who contracted the virus,” wrote the senators, who are calling on OSHA to issue an emergency temporary standard on infectious diseases. They also are seeking answers to a list of 10 questions from Scalia by Oct. 16.