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.
A representative for Cincinnati, Ohio-based Kroger Company, the largest grocery store chain in the U.S. and the parent company of both Ralphs and Food 4 Less, could not immediately be reached for comment after their business hours.
A local spokesperson for Ralphs did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“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.''
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, the agency 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.
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