Salem, OR—Oregon OSHA has fined a Florence restaurant $18,150 for three violations of standards designed to protect employees from the coronavirus disease. In one of the infractions, The Firehouse Restaurant willfully continued to potentially expose workers to the virus, despite a public health order limiting the capacity of indoor dining to zero in an “extreme risk” county.
The citation resulted from an inspection initiated in response to multiple complaints about The Firehouse Restaurant (its legal name is McKenzie Brown Corp.). The division conducted the inspection by phone. That decision was made after an investigation of social media posts and websites discovered the potential for armed people to block access to the business.
Moreover, the investigation showed that some extremist groups were encouraging people to engage in violence against Oregon OSHA compliance officers if they visited the site.
Using his discretionary authority under state law, Oregon OSHA Administrator Michael Wood imposed a $17,800 penalty for the willful violation. That is twice the minimum penalty for such a violation. The decision reflects the need to ensure a more appropriate deterrent effect where employers insist on disregarding public health measures.
Such willful behavior puts employees at risk and enables the employer to achieve a competitive advantage over businesses that choose to comply with workplace health and safety standards.
“Throughout the pandemic, we have consistently helped employers understand and follow health and safety rules. Most employers are choosing to do the right thing in the face of immense challenges,” Wood said. “We thank them for their ongoing efforts as we work to defeat this disease. As for the vocal few that continue to defy standards and to put their workers at risk, we will continue to carry out our enforcement work.”
Altogether, Oregon OSHA cited three violations of the division’s temporary rule: https://osha.oregon.gov/OSHARules/div1/437-001-074… to address COVID-19 risks in the workplace:
• In allowing indoor dining, The Firehouse Restaurant purposely chose to disregard capacity limitations imposed by the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) for such establishments in a county designated as Extreme Risk: https://coronavirus.oregon.gov/Pages/living-with-c… It was a willful violation. Oregon OSHA proposed a discretionary penalty of $17,800.
• The restaurant failed to develop and implement an infection control plan. Such a plan could include redesigning the workspace to enable physical distancing and reducing the use of shared surfaces and tools. It was a serious violation, carrying a proposed penalty of $175.
• The restaurant did not conduct any COVID-19 risk assessment to identify potential employee exposure to the virus and to address how to reduce such exposure. It was a serious violation, carrying a penalty of $175.
The inspection of The Firehouse Restaurant found the business committing the violations on or about Dec. 26 and continuing to do so afterward. The inspection included an interview with Kylie McKenzie, manager of the restaurant.
McKenzie said she originally closed the business to the public, but later decided to re-open it, even though she was aware the decision went against measures to prevent the spread of the disease in an extreme-risk county.
Ongoing refusals to correct violations and come into compliance with workplace health and safety standards can lead to additional higher penalties. Meanwhile, if an Oregon OSHA inspection documents violations while a county is at extreme risk, but the county’s risk level drops before the citation is issued, the citation will still be issued. The change in risk levels may affect how the violation needs to be corrected, but not whether it is cited.
Employers have 30 days to appeal citations.
In addition to its enforcement activities, Oregon OSHA offers employers and workers a variety of consultation, information, and education resources: https://osha.oregon.gov/covid19/Pages/default.aspx addressing COVID-19.