Seven Central Oregon businesses facing a total of nearly $190,000 in fines for worker-safety violations during the pandemic are appealing their citations. Two other businesses have paid their fines.
Among those appealing are the owners of Kevista Coffee, which was by far the most heavily penalized Central Oregon business, with fines totaling $116,470. The fines were mostly for violations of the state’s mask mandate.
Statewide, more than 70% of the businesses fined by the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health department have paid their fines for worker-safety violations, said Aaron Corvin, department spokesman.
“We believe our penalties and awareness of them have an affect on other employers who may be wavering in their decision to follow the requirements,” Corvin said. “Our penalties serve the purpose of addressing the future behavior of the employer in question, while also addressing the behavior of other employers.”
Employers can either pay the fines and make changes or appeal the citations. While the citations are being appealed the fines are unpaid.
Often, a settlement will occur during the informal part of the process, Corvin said. If a settlement cannot be reached, then the matter goes before an administrative law judge at the Workers’ Compensation Board. That can take anywhere from 30 days to a year to be resolved.
“It’s been a huge challenge for businesses to understand how to implement OSHA rules relating to the pandemic,” said Katy Brooks, CEO of the Bend Chamber of Commerce. “These rules certainly have been constraining, not just because of the cost and disruption, but how often they have changed, ramped up in response to rising COVID-19 numbers, then back toward ‘normal’ again.”
Here is a status of the worker safety violations investigated by Oregon OSHA:
• Laui Life Coffee LLC, owner of Kevista Coffee, faces fines for citations issued July 2020, March and June. The owner appealed the citations and the appeal was transferred to an administrative law judge.
The owner did not respond to phone calls or text messages from The Bulletin.
The fines were for “willfully” violating the mask mandates, allowing on-premise consumption of food or drink at a time when the county was under a high-risk lockdown and for failing to ensure customers and employees were wearing masks. OSHA also issued a “serious” citation for not implementing an infection control plan and for failing to conduct an exposure risk assessment.
• Obstructed View Inc., owner of Cork Cellars Wine and Bistro in Sisters, was fined $17,800 in May for “willfully” allowing indoor dining despite limitations imposed by a health order while the county was in the extreme-risk category for COVID-19. The citation is being appealed.
• Lowes in Redmond was fined $18,100 in April for “willfully” not ensuring face coverings were being worn inside the store. It also failed to develop an exposure risk assessment and infection control plan, which OSHA considered serious violations, according to Oregon OSHA. The citation is currently being appealed.
• Bucc’N Dulge Inc., owner of Black Bear Diner in Redmond and Bend, is appealing two April citations, each for $17,800 for “willfully” failing to follow bans on indoor dining and drinking. The owner also was cited for failing to implement a safety committee.
The two businesses that have paid their fines were Sno Cap Drive In in Redmond and Black Bear Diner in Madras.
In the case of Sno Cap, which declined to comment, the restaurant was fined $8,900 for “willfully” failing to ban indoor dining and drinking while the county was in the extreme-risk category. The citation was appealed and a settlement reached with the owner agreeing to pay the fine over a three-year period. To date, $996 has been paid.
Black Bear Diner in Madras has paid its fine, Corvin said. The citation was issued in June. The owner agreed to pay the $8,900 fine for “willfully” failing to ban indoor dining and drinking when the county was in the extreme-risk category.
“Early on in the pandemic, we were doing spot checks,” Corvin said. “There are several hundred inspections in light of the (governor’s) executive orders.”
Over a five-year average, Oregon OSHA has issued 1,835 citations for 4,214 violations, totaling $2.6 million in penalties, Corvin said. From October 2020 to September 2021, Oregon OSHA inspected 1,343 businesses and issued 873 citations, he said.
Brooks said early in the pandemic, when the government shuttered restaurants and pubs to indoor dining, there was “a disconnect between what we knew of the science of COVID and what would reduce exposure in a wide variety of situations.
“It has been an exercise of resilience, flexibility and innovation,” Brooks said, “and a lot of financial and mental pain.”