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10 states with the most federal COVID-19 worker safety violations


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10 states with the most federal COVID-19 worker safety violations

As the coronavirus struck, safety at the workplace urgently became more important than ever. Newspapers and televisions were filled with vivid images and stories of workers crowded into close quarters, lacking personal protective gear. More recently, issues of workplace safety have extended to whether employees must be vaccinated against COVID-19 as a requirement of their employment.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s watchdog, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, conducted thousands of inspections into possible violations, resulting in fines totaling about $4 million in the first two years of the pandemic.

Uplift Legal Funding has identified the states with the most federal COVID-19-related worker safety violations, using OSHA data from July 2020, when the agency first issued COVID-19-related inspection guidance, through December 2021.

Nationwide, 22 states chose to run their own OSHA-approved workplace safety programs. These states set their own COVID-19 safety standards, and OSHA only holds jurisdiction over federal employees in these states. Another six states, including New York and Maine, have worker safety programs for state and local government workers, but rely on OSHA for oversight of the private sector.

Due to the impact of the pandemic on OSHA’s ability to complete inspections at its usual capacity and its limited scope across certain states, a state’s ranking doesn’t necessarily reflect that its establishments were more prone to flouting COVID-19 restrictions—only that enforcement mechanisms caught more of the violations.

Take a look, and stay safe.



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#10. Georgia

– Total number of inspections with COVID-19-related violations: 17 (1,701 total inspections)
– Average number of standards cited per violation: 2.6
– Total amount of penalties issued: $282,786 ($16,634 average per establishment with violations)

Northern Georgia has traditionally been home to significant textile and carpet manufacturing businesses. One such company, floor covering and home accents manufacturer Nourison Industries Inc. of Calhoun, was fined more than $15,000 by OSHA for failing to provide employees with basic advisory information on wearing face masks to protect against the spread of the coronavirus. Also, like many states, Georgia saw COVID-19 sweep through its nursing homes with deadly results in 2020. Among its care facilities, in October 2021, Harrington Park Health & Rehabilitation in Augusta, Georgia, was cited when employees were found not wearing properly fitted face masks and fined nearly $14,000.



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#9. Missouri

– Total number of inspections with COVID-19-related violations: 27 (975 total inspections)
– Average number of standards cited per violation: 2.9
– Total amount of penalties issued: $306,731 ($11,360 average per establishment with violations)

Missouri has taken a lead role in a slew of lawsuits filed to challenge the vaccine mandate issued by OSHA for companies with more than 100 employees. The mandate calls for employees either to be vaccinated or to wear masks and undergo weekly tests. “This mandate is unconstitutional, unlawful, and unwise,” Eric Schmitt, Missouri’s attorney general, said in a federal court filing in St. Louis. Slapped with one of the biggest OSHA fines in the state, a nursing home in Monett, Missouri, was written up on issues surrounding the use of face masks, such as their proper use, fit, and cleaning. The facility was ordered to pay a fine of more than $38,000.



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#8. Connecticut

– Total number of inspections with COVID-19-related violations: 29 (817 total inspections)
– Average number of standards cited per violation: 3.1
– Total amount of penalties issued: $331,394 ($11,427 average per establishment with violations)

At least 18 people in Connecticut died in workplace-related deaths linked to COVID-19 in 2020, according to OSHA data, a year in which many employees were home due to lockdowns. Complaints to OSHA came from manufacturing and retail businesses and restaurants, with workers reporting workplaces that did not permit social distancing, a lack of protective gear, and high risks of exposure to fellow workers who displayed symptoms of COVID-19. Most cases brought to OSHA’s attention involved conditions at assisted care and nursing home facilities.



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#7. Texas

– Total number of inspections with COVID-19-related violations: 39 (5,238 total inspections)
– Average number of standards cited per violation: 2.2
– Total amount of penalties issued: $288,921 ($7,408 average per establishment with violations)

The state of Texas has been in the spotlight in tussles over worker safety during the pandemic. Gov. Greg Abbott issued orders challenging federal regulations that required employees to be vaccinated and expanding options for workers to be exempted. In 2020, an OSHA investigation found that Peterbilt Motor Co. fired an employee who voiced concern about being exposed to the virus at the truck manufacturer’s facility in Denton, Texas. The Department of Labor followed up with a lawsuit, demanding the company abide by a federal labor law that forbids retaliation against whistleblowers. The lawsuit sought to have the employee reinstated to his former job, with back pay and punitive damages.



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#6. Massachusetts

– Total number of inspections with COVID-19-related violations: 42 (1,526 total inspections)
– Average number of standards cited per violation: 3.6
– Total amount of penalties issued: $723,377 ($17,223 average per establishment with violations)

Nearly all of the cases of COVID-related violations cited by OSHA in Massachusetts involved nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Among other businesses, Liberty Tax Service in Lynn, Massachusetts, was hit with a $136,500 fine by OSHA in April 2021 for willfully violating the coronavirus safety protocols. OSHA said the company did not provide for adequate social distancing, ventilation, or cleaning, and the owner prohibited workers and customers from wearing face masks, despite a state mandate. A judge later ordered the tax prep company to close. Also in 2021, the U.S. Postal Service in Springfield, Massachusetts, was issued a $35,000 fine in a COVID-related case for violating a federal labor law that requires workplaces to be safe and free from hazards to employees.



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#5. Pennsylvania

– Total number of inspections with COVID-19-related violations: 45 (2,425 total inspections)
– Average number of standards cited per violation: 2.7
– Total amount of penalties issued: $476,940 ($10,599 average per establishment with violations)

As with many states, in Pennsylvania, violations of OSHA regulations designed to protect worker safety were concentrated in the care-giving fields. Among the businesses facing OSHA fines were several Philadelphia-area rehabilitation locations, skilled nursing facilities, and retirement communities, as well as Temple University Hospital. Also found in violation were home health care agencies, a dental clinic, a pharmacy, a number of ambulance companies, and a residential facility in western Pennsylvania for children and adults with intellectual and physical disabilities.



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#4. Illinois

– Total number of inspections with COVID-19-related violations: 49 (2,578 total inspections)
– Average number of standards cited per violation: 3.4
– Total amount of penalties issued: $776,546 ($15,848 average per establishment with violations)

In October 2021, a nursing home facility in Illinois was fined almost $84,000 for OSHA COVID-19-related violations—the largest penalty meted out under worker safety standards issued by the government during the pandemic. Among the violations committed by West Suburban Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, a 249-bed facility in Bloomingdale, Illinois, was a failure to make sure its respirators fit properly and were used correctly. One of its staff members died in 2020 of COVID-19. A medical center in suburban Chicago also paid a fine of more than $60,000 for violations related to the coronavirus, including a failure to assess employees’ vaccination status and their COVID-19 test results or diagnoses.



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#3. Ohio

– Total number of inspections with COVID-19-related violations: 60 (2,718 total inspections)
– Average number of standards cited per violation: 2.6
– Total amount of penalties issued: $781,540 ($13,026 average per establishment with violations)

In the earliest months of the pandemic, OSHA cited a group of three Ohio nursing homes with serious mask violations. The federal agency said the homes failed to oversee the proper use of N95 masks, and that staff members were wearing the same masks for as long as a week. It also said the care homes did not perform tests required to make sure the staff’s masks fit properly. The citations, issued in July 2020, were among the earliest issued by OSHA after the pandemic began.



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#2. New York

– Total number of inspections with COVID-19-related violations: 97 (2,177 total inspections)
– Average number of standards cited per violation: 2.7
– Total amount of penalties issued: $1,245,893 ($12,844 average per establishment with violations)

Nearly all of the workplace violations cited by OSHA in New York were discovered at care and assisted living facilities. COVID-19 deaths at the state’s nursing homes made headlines when it was confirmed in a 2021 report by the attorney general that many thousands more people died of COVID-19 in assisted living than the administration of former Gov. Andrew Cuomo had disclosed. The state, early in the pandemic, had chosen to move recovering COVID-19 patients out of hospitals and into nursing homes to free up more space. The report also said the number of people who died in the nursing homes could be miscounted by as much as 50% because only residents who died on nursing home property, not those being treated in hospitals, were counted.



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#1. New Jersey

– Total number of inspections with COVID-19-related violations: 144 (1,814 total inspections)
– Average number of standards cited per violation: 2.9
– Total amount of penalties issued: $2,333,025 ($16,202 average per establishment with violations)

In New Jersey, the nation’s most densely populated state, assisted living facilities and care homes accounted for nearly all of the inspections undertaken by OSHA based on complaints of workplace violations related to COVID-19. At the same time, state authorities were busy tracking down potential trouble spots as well. In just one week after the state’s Labor Department mandated workplace protections for employees, almost 380 complaints about conditions were filed using the department’s online reporting site.

This story originally appeared on Uplift Legal Funding
and was produced and distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.


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