As Washington enters a statewide lockdown on Nov. 17 to curb a record spike in coronavirus cases, employers will face new restrictions and come under extra scrutiny to ensure that workers are not unnecessarily put at risk – particularly in essential industries like agriculture.
More than 20 employers in Washington’s agriculture industry have already been fined 130 times for coronavirus-related concerns including failure to comply with state rules since the start of the pandemic. The number safety and health violations is expected to grow in coming weeks as ongoing inspections wrap up.
As of Nov. 12, the Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) had conducted 384 agricultural workplace safety and health inspections so far this year to help ensure the safety of farmworkers on the job.
Ten of the agriculture businesses fined this year involved housing violations for seasonal workers, including allowing too many people to bunk together in the same living quarters. Gebbers Farms, one of the biggest apple and cherry producers in the Pacific Northwest, has been fined $13,200 for similar violations. In August, the Bridgeport-based agriculture business was ordered by the state to test its labor force of 4,500 people after three deaths and more than 120 coronavirus infections and three deaths were reported at the farm.
For Juan Carlos, a temporary farmworker at Gebbers Farms, the safety risk outweighed the paycheck. It “was a choice between work and life, so we chose life,” he told Seattle-based Crosscut news site.
L&I, which administers workers’ compensation claims in Washington state, has conducted nearly 3,600 inspections across all industries in 2020, according to a news release.
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