More than 600 COVID-related complaints from NC received by OSHA in last 4 months

North Carolina news

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — More than 600 coronavirus-related complaints in North Carolina were filed to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration during the last four months, according to an online database.

More than one third of those complaints filed between May 11 and Sept. 17 came in the employers in manufacturing industry — a broad classification that also includes the state’s poultry-processing plants — with another 15 percent coming in health care and social assistance, according to data collected from OSHA and posted online by Strike Wave, a publication that covers labor issues.

The complaints reviewed by CBS17.com have been classified as closed by OSHA, which only releases details after they have been resolved. CBS17.com previously reviewed records from March 10 and May 8.

But it shows how those percentages shifted during the summer months as the state moved through stages of the reopening process. Employers in the retail and restaurant sectors accounted for a growing share of those complaints while the numbers of complaints in manufacturing and health care decreased.

A look at selected sectors and the number of complaints received by OSHA from May 11 through the end of August.

Of the 233 complaints against employers in manufacturing, 71 were filed during the last half of May — but that number dropped to 60 in July and 51 in August.

Conversely, there were just nine complaints against retail establishments in the second half of May but that number grew to 21 in June and 36 in July. There was a similar pattern in the restaurant industry — formally labeled as accommodation and food services — with four complaints in late May, 11 in June and 23 in July.

“Early on, a lot of the complaints were coming from the health care industry as well as manufacturing,” said Kevin Reuning, a professor of political science at Miami (Ohio) University who helped assemble the database for Strike Wave.

“Health care makes sense. Manufacturing … as they figure out how to deal with things, the trends start to go down, and what we’ve seen take their place is retail trade as well as accommodation as well as food services, the restaurant services in particular. They didn’t have that many complaints in the beginning, but now as everything is reopening and reopening in ways that is not always consistent even across states or within states, there’s been a lot of complaints from there.”

Many of the complaints relate to employers keeping the workplaces clean, the availability of personal protective equipment or notifying employees if their co-workers tested positive for COVID-19. In the narrative section of the database, the phrase “social distancing” appears 147 times.

“Something that stuck out is how often people are complaining about, ‘I know this person is sick and maybe they told some of us but they have not told all the staff,’” Reuning said. “Or they’ve told just the staff that was around that person as opposed to everyone who’s in the business.”

The vast majority of the complaints were resolved — or, closed — with a letter from OSHA to the employer outlining the steps needed for compliance. Nationally, the first COVID safety fine by OSHA was issued earlier this month to a Smithfield meat-packing plant in South Dakota.

Among the extraordinary claims:

— According to an emailed complaint in May, employees at a plastic surgeon in Charlotte reported using the same thermometer in patients’ mouths and armpits.

— An emailed complaint in July said a pharmacy in Brunswick County “required an employee sick with COVID-19 symptoms to remain at work” and would not allow that person to take his temperature.

— An emailed complaint from July said someone at the town of Mocksville was pressured into working “by the police chain of command” in June despite showing symptoms of COVID-19 and the employer did not conduct contact tracing.

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