World Events

Amazon warehouse in Rialto fined $41,000 for COVID violations

The California agency that oversees workplace safety fined Amazon.com Inc. $41,000 for failing to record COVID-19 infections among employees at a Rialto facility and to generally protect workers there against potential exposure to the virus. It’s the second round of fines the state agency has levied against the e-commerce giant during the pandemic.

After a months-long inspection that began in October, investigators with the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, or Cal/OSHA, found that an Amazon fullfillment center in Rialto didn’t implement adequate physical distancing, face coverings and physical barriers such as plexiglass screens that would help block infectious particles.

The citation, issued Monday, also says Amazon failed to record 217 COVID-19 infections contracted by employees from April to October 2020. State occupational health and safety laws require employers to document all workplace illnesses and injuries in a record called Log 300, that is supposed to be available to workers on request.

Amazon spokeswoman Maria Boschetti said the company follows regulations, takes the health and safety of its employees seriously, and is considering contesting the citation. “We believe our health and safety programs are more than adequate,” Boschetti said in an emailed statement.

Boschetti said Amazon committed $11.5 billion last year to COVID-related initiatives to help keep employees safe, including temperature checks, cleanings and testing. The measure includes training that spans “onboarding for new hires to constant reminders, dedicated safety ambassadors, and … communication about safety protocols.”

Cal/OSHA called the safety prevention lapses “serious” violations. It says Amazon failed to effectively train employees in COVID-19 safety, including on what symptoms to look out for, how to report illness, how to sanitize work stations and other equipment, proper mask usage and other prevention methods.

“The employer failed to effectively identify and evaluate workplace hazards relating to COVID-19,” the report says.

Cal/OSHA investigated conditions at the Rialto facility after the Warehouse Worker Resource Center, a labor advocacy group, filed a complaint on behalf of employees there in August. The complaint, reviewed by The Times, alleged Amazon did not implement adequate physical distancing, training or sanitizing practices for shared equipment. It also alleged that company pressure to meet high productivity demands impeded workers’ ability to properly wear face masks and take other coronavirus safety measures.

Cal/OSHA had cited Amazon in October for coronavirus safety violations at a delivery center in Hawthorne and a fulfillment center in Eastvale after employees called for a state investigation into their working conditions as the coronavirus began to spread among workers last spring. Those penalties, $1,870, were much smaller than the $41,000 fine being levied for the reported shortcomings at the Rialto facility.

In response to the October citation, an Amazon spokesperson at the time said the company had invested heavily in safety training and that regulators had repeatedly characterized its safety procedures as exceeding compliance requirements.

Amazon workers across the country have said the company has not implemented proper safety precautions to protect from COVID infections, nor shared enough information to allow workers to assess their exposure and protect themselves.

Like other big corporations, the company has been in the spotlight for workplace safety and conditions for employees risking their health on the job, while stay-at-home consumer habits drive record corporate profits.

Amazon’s failure to record the 217 infections “echoes a lot of concerns and questions workers were having about cases,” said Tim Shadix, legal director of the Warehouse Worker Resource Center.

“Workers would ask ‘How many cases? What floor? What department?’ [The company] refused to provide this information to workers,” Shadix said. “It’s legally dubious, demonstrates a lack of decency and is obviously really bad for health and worker safety.”

Shadix said the findings in Monday’s citation were far more comprehensive and captured better the full extent of complaints he typically hears from workers. Still, he said, “Cal/OSHA is working with very limited resources to be able to effectively evaluate and see all the violations.”

Since Cal/OSHA issued its first coronavirus-related citation Aug. 25, it has fined approximately 200 companies a total of more than $4 million. The state’s largest fine to date over workplace safety violations for failing to prevent the spread of COVID-19, at $421,880, was handed to California’s Department of Corrections for failing to report deaths and injuries and mitigating the spread of the virus at San Quentin State Prison.

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