Washington farm slapped with $156K fine for repeatedly ignoring COVID-19 safety rules

Photo credit: iStockphoto.com/geoffsp

A fruit grower and processor outside Yakima, Washington is the latest agricultural company in the state to face steep fines for ignoring COVID-19 workplace safety and health rules multiple times.

The Washington state Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) fined Evans Fruit Co. Inc. $156,000 for “willful and serious” COVID-19 mask and social distancing violations. It is the third time in recent months that an Evans worksite has been cited for coronavirus safety and health violations.

L&I deemed the violations “willful” because Evans knowingly failed to enforce the requirement for workers to wear masks. The violations were deemed “serious” given the risk of serious illness or death from exposure to COVID-19. Willful violations carry fines 10 times greater than normal penalties.

Prompted by an anonymous complaint about COVID-19-related violations at Evans’ fruit-packing warehouse in Cowiche, L&I investigators found a number of employees who were not socially distanced, not separated by physical barriers and not wearing masks. The safety manager at the company said he would not require any worker to wear a mask, according to L&I.

Under Gov. Jay Inslee’s emergency proclamation on coronavirus, employees are required to wear masks and either work six feet apart or be separated by physical barriers to help prevent person-to-person infection of COVID-19.

Over the summer, Evans Fruit Co. was fined $6,600 for social distancing and masking violations at separate fruit-packing locations.

“Evans Fruit Company’s blatant disregard for the rules threatens employee health and safety,” said Craig Blackwood, acting assistant director for L&I’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health.

The company has 15 business days to appeal the violations and fines. Fines from these types of violations go into the workers’ compensation supplemental pension fund, which helps workers and families of those who have died on the job. Two workers at Gebbers Farm Operations, LP, died after contracting coronavirus over the summer.

Emery Reddy helps workers. Call us for a free consultation if your employer has endangered workers, or if you have an L&I, workers’ comp, injury, or other employment law claim. You won’t get better advice.

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