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Thousands of OSHA complaints claim employers fail to protect workers from coronavirus

Law expert says federal agency is overwhelmed
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Posted at 6:00 PM, Jun 04, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-04 18:38:25-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Workplace safety complaints to the U.S. Office of Safety and Health Administration during the COVID-19 pandemic are rolling in.

The number of complaints to OSHA nationwide has doubled in the past two months.

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Labor law expert and attorney Art Schofield said the agency is overwhelmed and understaffed.

“There’s a very limited number of investigators,” said Schofield. “And a very small number of offices.”

Nationwide, OSHA closed more than 4,000 complaints in the last two months from workers who alleged employers were not protecting them from the coronavirus.

Schofield, a West Palm Beach attorney, is not surprised that only one complaint in the U.S. resulted in a fine.

“From an OSHA standpoint, it would be near impossible for them to be able to find that when the employer did was the cause of infection,” said Schofield.

Art Schofield
Although thousands of complaints have been filed with OSHA, West Palm Beach attorney Art Schofield said it would be "near impossible" to hold the employer responsible for the coronavirus.

Contact 5 checked OSHA's file for April and May and found the agency received seven complaints in Palm Beach and Martin counties.

One complaint alleged a security firm staffing a gated community did "not provide masks, gloves, or disinfectants to us in the booth at the change of each shift."

One complaint targeted a restaurant saying clerks served smoothies without wearing gloves.

OSHA received complaints that a medical supply company and a marina allowed sick people to come to work.

Many complaints nationally and locally come from health care facilities.

In the past two months, area hospital workers complained they could not get enough N95 protective masks.

Someone at Boca Raton Regional Hospital took that complaint to OSHA alleging, “Labor and delivery department nurses are refused N95 masks when working with patients suspected to be infectious.”

In an emailed statement, Boca Regional responded, “Appropriate personal protective equipment including N95 respirators … is provided to all employees …participating in the care of patients suspected to be infected with EMPL COVID-19."

Schofield said, in his experience, OSHA will respond with the following words.

“Ask the employer to self-police the environment, respond by taking certain measures, and close the file,” Schofield said.

WPTV NewsChannel 5 reached out to OSHA by phone and email, but have not received a response.