Data: Nearly 200 COVID-related complaints in NC received by OSHA since March

North Carolina news

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Nearly 200 coronavirus-related complaints in North Carolina were filed to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration during the first two months of the pandemic, according to an online database.

A Sara Lee plant in Tarboro, a Pilgrim’s Pride poultry processing plant in Sanford and hospitals across the state were among the employers that had complaints filed against them between March 10 and May 8, according to the data collected from OSHA and published online by Strike Wave, a publication that covers labor issues.

View the Strike Wave OSHA Complaint Map here.

“This is really important information, right? Where these COVID-19-related complaints are coming in from, and it was kind of locked behind a way that was not easily accessible,” said Kevin Reuning, a political science professor at Miami (Ohio) University who helped assemble the data. “So it was really about just trying to get this information out there to as many people as possible.”

The vast majority of the 177 complaints reviewed by CBS 17 covered more than one area of concern. OSHA, the federal agency charged with ensuring safe and healthy working conditions for employees, does not share location or narrative information until a case is closed.

More than 52 percent involved personal protective equipment, with the complainants saying it either was not provided or was not being worn, while 43 percent had to do with cleaning or sterilization issues and 31 percent dealt with social distancing guidelines not being observed.

The sector with the most complaints: Health care and social assistance, which accounted for 58 of the complaints, and is consistent with OSHA guidance that it would focus inspections on high-risk environments. It’s followed by 44 for manufacturing, a broad classification that also includes the state’s meat and poultry processing plants. At least 2,006 workers at 26 plants in North Carolina have tested positive for COVID-19, a state official told CBS 17 on Saturday.

“The top industry is generally health care, which makes sense — I mean, they’re the people who are on the front lines of this and then they’re also the ones that are the most familiar with what should and shouldn’t be happening,” Reuning said. “But then the second group is this manufacturing group, and when you drill into that, it’s a lot of industrial farming organizations.”

The Sara Lee plant in Edgecombe County faced seven complaints, with most of those focused on employees saying their colleagues worked while sick and they were told to provide their own masks.

According to one of the three complaints against the Pilgrim’s Pride plant in Lee County, employees were told they would lose their job if they refused to report for work.

Among other notable complaints found in the database:

— A complaint filed April 9 said workers at Pitt County Memorial Hospital in Greenville were reusing PPE “so much that they are in danger,” and that employees in the emergency room “are advised to hold their breath if coughed on.”

— A complaint filed March 20 said that at Greene County Health Care Inc. in Snow Hill, “the faucets are covered in pink slime” in a restroom.

— A complaint filed March 17 said that two days earlier at Lumberton Health and Rehabilitation Center, employees had their temperatures taken upon arrival with an oral thermometer that was “only wiped with an alcohol wipe” between uses. 

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