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Are you Prepared for a Cal/OSHA COVID-19 Inspection?

An edited version of this article appeared in the fall issue of Benefiting YOU.

Earlier this summer, the California Department of Industrial Relations, Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) began conducting enforcement inspections in earnest specifically focused on COVID-19. On September 4th, the agency announced the first group of agricultural employers to be cited and the proposed penalties, ranging from $2,025 to $51,190. Cal/OSHA considers agriculture a priority for their strategic enforcement. According to Cal/OSHA Chief Doug Park, “these are industries where workers have been disproportionately affected, and these citations are the first of many to be issued in the coming weeks and months.” It is critical that agricultural employers understand and are prepared for what can transpire during a Cal/OSHA COVID inspection.

The Core Elements of a Cal/OSHA COVID Investigation

The practical reality is that a visit from Cal/OSHA specific to COVID should look and feel like any other agency investigation, with the exception being that the enforcement staff are specifically focused on the steps being taken to mitigate the risk associated with COVID. It is also critical to remember that while they are there to evaluate the business’s COVID-focused efforts, it is within their jurisdiction to request details on any programs specific to worker safety and health. That being said, developing an Inspection Protocol Checklist covering the following areas will be the most effective way of ensuring all staff are prepared and respond appropriately:

  • Visitor Arrival

  • The Walk-Around

  • Employee Interviews

  • The Document Request

  • The Departure Discussion

  • After the Departure Discussion

Visitor Arrival

Whomever from the company that is responsible for greetings guests at the office or entrance to your business should politely welcome the investigator and then ask to see their official ID card and a supporting business card. All supervisors, foremen, crew leaders, and other managerial staff should be instructed to look for visitors on the property in any location (office, shop, packing shed, supply building, fields, vineyards, orchards). If they encounter a visitor, the same first request should be made to see official identification, a business card and in the case of individuals not at the office, ask that they travel to that location for further assistance.

The guest should then be asked about their purpose, including what they are there and what they would like to see. The designated organizational contact should be then be contacted and informed of the investigator’s presence and stated purpose. It is reasonable to ask the individual to wait while the management designee arrives, and they should be seated in a communal, public area that is visible to others. Based on the purpose of the visit, the management designee may contact the company’s legal counsel to inform them of the visit and in turn, any directives provided by the lawyer should be followed.

The Walk-Around

Once it is determined who will accompany the investigator, it is critical to consider the path that will be taken for them to visit all areas of the site that have been requested. Think clearly before departing where you and they will walk and drive, being mindful of the work currently being conducted. The agency team will be made up of any of the following:

  • One or more inspectors

  • Measurement tools

  • Cameras

  • Union representatives (if applicable)

  • Employee(s)

The company team should be comprised of the following:

  • The designated management representative(s) each with a notebook

  • Your Safety and/or Human Resources Manager, if that individual is not the designated management representative

  • An additional staff member to serve as photographer and note taker

  • Your Shop Manager/Mechanic/individual capable to speaking to equipment-specific inquiries

Understand that the investigator will want to have a clear understanding of how your business operates and in the context of COVID, how and where workers are taking breaks, washing hands, using hand sanitizer, and the types of barriers being used that allow for proper social distancing. Remembering these areas of focus are critical prior to the investigation taking place so you can provide proper evidence of the steps being taken.

Employee Interviews

Keep in mind that both the list of items to review prior to engaging a contractor and the list of elements to evaluate in the field are not exhaustive. For a complete, robust list, contact AgSafe at safeinfo@agsafe.org or 209-526-4400. That being said, these provide an excellent place for growers to start the critical and important task of further protecting their business by more thoughtfully considering who to engage when trying to tackle the ever-present labor challenges.

For more information about worker safety, human resources, labor relations, pesticide safety or food safety issues, please visit www.agsafe.org, call (209) 526-4400 or email safeinfo@agsafe.org. AgSafe is a 501c3 nonprofit providing training, education, outreach and tools in the areas of safety, labor relations, food safety and human resources for the food and farming industries. Since 1991, AgSafe has educated over 85,000 employers, supervisors, and workers about these critical issues.