Five grocery stores in Los Angeles, including branches of Ralphs and Food 4 Less, have been cited for failing to protect their employees from COVID-19, Cal/OSHA announced Wednesday.
The retailers were cited for various health and safety violations including some classified as serious, with proposed penalties ranging from $13,500 to $25,560.
Cal/OSHA found that Ralphs failed to properly notify the state when two workers at two stores died from COVID-19. At a Food 4 Less, the agency found that employees could not maintain physical distancing between themselves and customers.
“Grocery retail workers are on the front lines and face a higher risk of exposure to COVID-19,” Cal/OSHA Chief Doug Parker said. “Employers in this industry must investigate possible causes of employee illness and put in place the necessary measures to protect their staff.”
A spokesman for the supermarket chain said the company would appeal the fines.
“The press release issued by the Department of Labor Relations is a misrepresentation of the facts. Many of the citations date back to the early onset of the coronavirus pandemic, before Cal/OSHA even provided guidelines for worker safety,” said John Votava, director of corporate affairs for Kroger’s Ralphs division. “To be clear, the safety of our associates and customers is our top priority.
“Since March, we have proactively invested more than $1 billion to both reward our associates and to safeguard them and our customers through the implementation of dozens of safety measures. The company’s total COVID-19 incident rate continues to track meaningfully below the rate in the surrounding communities where we operate. We have learned and continue to learn while keeping our stores and supply chain open and serving Southern California during the pandemic.”
Food 4 Less in Los Angeles and Ralphs grocery stores in Studio City, Sherman Oaks and West Hollywood put their workers at risk for serious illness by allowing too many customers in the store, which prevented workers from maintaining at least six feet of physical distance, Cal-OHSA said.
The Studio City location exposed workers in the cheese department to hazards related to COVID-19 as they did not install physical barriers between employees and customers. Plexiglas or other required barriers were not installed at registers 1-8 at the West Hollywood location, according to Cal/OSHA.
Cal/OSHA inspectors determined that both the Culver City and West Hollywood locations failed to provide effective training for their employees, including instruction on how the virus is spread, measures to avoid infection, signs and symptoms of infection, and how to safely use cleaners and disinfectants.
The Culver City and Sherman Oaks branches of Ralphs grocery stores failed to report a worker’s fatal COVID-19 illness at each location. Cal/OSHA learned of the fatality seven days after the worker’s death in Culver City, and six days after the fatality in Sherman Oaks, regulators said.
The proposed penalties are:
— Ralphs, Culver City, $25,560;
— Ralphs, West Hollywood, $25,120;
— Ralphs, Sherman Oaks, $23,700;
— Ralphs, Studio City, $13,500; and
— Food 4 Less, Los Angeles, $16,500.
According to UFCW Local 770, which represents more than 20,000 grocery workers in Los Angeles and elsewhere in the region, Jackie Mayoral, who works at the Ralphs in Hollywood, contracted COVID-19 and led the call for changes inside the store to keep customers and workers safe.
“What happened at my store was terrifying and put too many people in harm’s way,” Mayoral said. “I contracted COVID-19 at work and it wrecked me. I am still recovering. I am happy to see that Cal/OSHA has completed its investigation and found that Ralphs did not do what it was supposed to keep people safe. People are still getting sick and safety measures are still implemented inconsistently. My hope is that Ralphs will take these citations seriously and do its part to stop the spread of the virus, especially at a time when its profits are record high.”
Cal/OSHA has created guidance for many industries in multiple languages including videos, daily checklists and detailed guidelines on how to protect workers from the virus. This guidance provides a road map for employers on their existing obligations to protect workers from COVID-19.
The agency reminds all employers and workers that any suspected cases of COVID-19 must be promptly reported to the local public health department. California employers must also report to Cal/OSHA any serious illness, serious injury or death of an employee that occurred at work or in connection with work within eight hours of when they knew or should have known of the illness.
Cal/OSHA helps protect workers from health and safety hazards on the job in almost every workplace in California. Employers and workers who have questions or need assistance with workplace health and safety programs can call Cal/OSHA’s Consultation Services Branch at 800-963-9424.