Central Washington Farms Fined For Violating COVID-19 Protections For Workers
BY ASSOCIATED PRESS STAFF
Three Mid-Columbia farms are among those receiving the biggest fines in the state from the Washington state Department of Labor and Industries for serious violations of agriculture regulations to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
More than 20 farms have been cited for inadequate COVID precautions, The Tri-City Herald reported.
King Fuji Ranch of Mattawa was fined $13,500 after L&I accused workers assigned to different living spaces of interacting with others and not social distancing. The ranch owner has 15 days to appeal.
Agriculture workers should be assigned to work and living groups of up to 15 people and are not supposed to mingle with workers in other groups, according to Washington state COVID-19 safety plans.
Evans Fruit Co. of Sunnyside, Cowiche and Tieton was fined $6,600 after inspections in all three locations found employees were not wearing face masks, taking temperatures or social distancing, according to L&I.
The company is appealing, and an additional inspection is in progress.
Agrilabor of Benton City was fined $5,400 after L&I said it had worker beds that were less than six feet apart. Agrilabor has appealed.
While King Fuji Ranch has been issued the largest fine for agriculture coronavirus-related violations to date, an investigation involving workers who died is underway at Gebbers Farm Operations in Bridgeport, state officials said.
Gebbers has been fined $13,200 for workers assigned to different living groups interacting and no barriers in the kitchen, according to L&I. Gebbers has 15 days to appeal.
L&I has conducted 384 agricultural workplace safety and health inspections this year. Inspectors have found 130 violations, including failures to follow state rules meant to protect workers from the coronavirus.
Inspections efforts increased this year because of the coronavirus, with Washington state L&I performing more agriculture worker safety and health inspections and consultations than nearly any other state in the country, said Anne Soiza, L&I assistant director for the Division of Occupational Safety and Health.
“Our country relies on agriculture workers to grow and harvest food for our tables. We’re doing everything possible to make sure they are safe on the job,” said L&I Director Joel Sacks.
Copyright 2020 Associated Press