PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Oregon Governor Kate Brown says she’s aware the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration is overwhelmed by the sheer number of pandemic-related complaints.
Since the pandemic began more than 9,900 cases of COVID-19 and 53 deaths have been linked to workplace outbreaks in Oregon. Out of the top 30 workplace outbreaks in the state, OSHA has inspected two.
“It’s certainly a top priority for me to make sure our workers are safe in our workplaces,” Gov. Brown said Tuesday. “I am working with my team and legislative leadership to make sure that agencies like OSHA have the resources and staffing they need to meet their response.”
OSHA has received more than 15,000 COVID complaints statewide. Most of the complaints are for employers not enforcing facial coverings or social distancing. OSHA has managed to inspect at least 257 of those complaints.
With only 76 enforcement officers for the entire state, OSHA leaders say they simply don’t have the capacity to inspect each complaint.
“The challenge that we face because we can’t inspect them all is figuring out how to recognize where those outbreaks are most likely based on the limited information we get in a set of complaints,” said Oregon OSHA Administrator Michael Wood.
For example, the Snake River Correctional Institution has had six complaints and the largest COVID-19 outbreak in Oregon with 547 cases — but it hasn’t been inspected.
Meanwhile, OSHA inspected a single complaint against a plant nursery in Boring with 64 cases of COVID-19.
While more than 60% of complaints have been resolved, there are thousands still being processed.
“There are a lot of places we are not getting to. If you look at the basic numbers, we are doing inspections in about 1.5% of the places we’ve received complaints about, at least so far,” said Wood.
OSHA has hired more administrative staff to help with the process but says the fundamental problem is the lead time involved in training enforcement officers.
“If there are serious problems and we find them we will deal with them,” Wood said. “But I am not going to pretend we have the staffing or the capability to find every problem that exists in the Oregon workforce.”
While OSHA officials say they have not requested resources from the state, they have shared their limited inspection activity with legislative committees.
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